Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Anscombe and the architectonic good

I'm going to be speaking on this subject soon. Here's a draft of my paper so far.

For the conference I can't make the paper much longer but I'm also interested in developing a longer version, so comments that would require my saying a lot more about this or that are welcome too.


  1. I just now had time to read this paper, and am glad that I did. I'm still processing, but here are a few initial things:

    1. For the life of me, I couldn't parse the opening paragraph of Part III and suspected that maybe there was a typo...(help?)

    2. The plain man: so is the idea that the plain man has no need for an architectonic good, or is it rather that his architectonic good is simply something like "the truth" and his guiding overarching principle is something like, act in conformity with the truth? And if someone says, "Why should I care about that?" this itself is unreasonable, because someone who doesn't care about truth can't be reasonable. (And perhaps the only philosophical thought the plain man needs to have to sustain this is that relativism and its ilk are somehow self-defeating.)

    I really liked the paper. But now I want to read the next paper that is specifically about the "plain man."

    1. Thanks, Matt! I'm presenting a slightly revised version of this today, so this is very timely. I'd like to write something about the plain man. Is he ideal or somehow impossible or actually not that great after all? I'm unsure. Which would be a good reason to write a paper about him.

      I've re-written the first paragraph of part II, and it's less clumsy now. What I mean is this: If we have a last end (ultimate goal) and if this is incompatible with shameful acts (but not with death) then it can be shown that it is rational to prefer death to committing a shameful act. Otherwise this cannot be shown. The only plausible candidate for what this last end might be is flourishing. But it is obscure what flourishing is. It is also obscure how dying could help one achieve this goal. (I'm not sure that this is all true, but it's what Anscombe seems to think.)

      Does that make more sense?

    2. It's not so much that the plain man doesn't need the architectonic good. If we all have some ultimate goal then it matters for all of us equally. But Anscombe thinks the only way to get rid of the moral 'ought' is to replace it with talk and thought about the architectonic good. The plain man doesn't think and talk like that because he's not a philosopher. He wouldn't talk about the moral 'ought' either, so there's nothing to replace in his case. He has no need of the concept of the architectonic good, no more than Jesus/Buddha/etc. need this concept. (Which is one reason to suspect he might be an impossible ideal, or no more possible than figures like that. So he'd be a rare man at best.)

  2. Great--you said you were traveling the last few days so I thought perhaps you'd already presented it. Yes, that's exactly what I thought you needed to say at the start of Part III; perfectly clear now.

    I've started thinking about this puzzle about what sense of flourishing could be compatible with death over the shameful (etc.) act. I want at some point to do something with a phrase of Murdoch's, "the pointlessness of virtue." But it seems like a big project, so I've been trying also to hold off until I'm closer to done with the patience book. (Insert corny joke, perhaps.)

    It seems we might try working out the concept of a virtuous death or a virtuous sacrifice of one's life. Or what it means to say that there are fates worse than death. What you say in the paper about related issues is thought-provoking--for example, the idea that one might instead think that one could always try the shameful option, and if living it becomes unbearable, then suicide is a way out. Of course, some "plain men" would think that suicide isn't an option, ever. I think the issue is whether or to what extent the overriding good or goal is personal (makes my life go better) or impersonal (connects my life--and death--to something else like the Good or the Truth)...

    Last night, I was going through some old papers and came across one of my attempts to make sense of the Amish elder case in Winch's "Moral Integrity." Here is a case of, arguably, a plain man doing something he thinks he must do (kill the bad guy who's about to kill a young girl) although he also thinks that it's wrong to do it--it violates his principles. I wonder if the case, or Winch's treatment of it, might help in this context. I'm not sure.

    Another possible source of "plain man" examples (in which the plain man turns out to be rare) might be Andre Schwarz-Bart's novel The Last of the Just, which is about the history of one line of Lamed Vovnik (a Jewish tradition--look it up) and the Holocaust. (I don't know how much of the book is historical and how much is fiction.) A brutal but beautiful book. The Vovniks are "just men" who often do not know that they are; they face terrible suffering in their lives, and the story/myth is that there are always 36 such men in the world who (roughly) bear the excess suffering of the world on their own shoulders. Sorry that's not a very clear description; I have to run.

    1. Sorry it's taken me so long to respond, but I wanted to wait till I had time to think a bit.

      one might instead think that one could always try the shameful option, and if living it becomes unbearable, then suicide is a way out

      I mean that someone might think this. It's not an idea that I support.I'm with the plain man and the religious believer on these things, but it's hard to explain why the cynical view isn't the only rational one. Depends what you mean by 'rational,' I suppose, but I think there's more to be said than that.

      Thanks for your examples. I'll have to look into those.