Sunday, May 24, 2009

Self-Sufficient, Whim-Driven Androids

Just finished Alisdair MacIntyre's "Dependent Rational Animals," a fabulous book, relatively brief (165 pp.), and I think readable by non-philosophers. He's a little too correct in his grammar (there are some things up with which he will not put), but he mostly avoids jargon and footnotes and insider references.

The book is about how we have to take not only our rights and responsibilities and opportunities as members of society into account, but we also have to have an approach to rights and responsibilities and opportunities that covers all the facts about our social life. For instance, babies can't vote, nor should they be able to. Neither can felons, the insane, those declared incompetent, and so on.

But where do they fit? We don't want anyone speaking for us when we can speak for ourselves, but what about those who can't? Well, they can't; why say any more about it? Well, because DNR orders and living wills and powers of attorney are indications that there are times when any of us--in many (most?) cases all of us--will be so incompetent to exercise our rights, fulfill our responsibilities, or take advantage of our opportunities, that we depend on other (reliable!) people to look after our best interests.

If you spend your life looking out for number one, what happens when you cannnot do that, and you depend on someone else *not* looking after *their* number one, but after you---who are their number two, or twentysixth, or fourth surgery of the day, or whatever?

So we have to have and exercise with each other not only the "adult supervision" the president has justly called for in our responsible-citizen lives, we also have to have literal adult supervision whenever there is real dependence--illness, childhood, disability, senility, in cases of compromised competencies of all kinds.

To me this ties in to the African notion of community. One criticism African thinkers make of the West is that, having let capitalism run amok and not only run our economy but our minds and hearts as well, we only value people for their productivity, and thus only value them for their productive potential or track-record. But of course infants are not productive people, the senile are not, the mentally ill are not, and so on. The guy telling me this said, So of course you guys warehouse your old people and have bigtime trouble with unwanted pregnancies.

Aristotle defined the human being as a rational animal. MacIntyre here is modifying that to say that we are (inter-)dependent rational animals. Good book.

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