Learning, Participation and After Virtue

What makes a good person? This is an old and important question.  Philosophers and theologians through the years have sought an answer including Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume, Kierkegaard, Newman, Nietzsche and others. Alasdair MacIntyre provides a useful analysis of the history of thinking on this question and the current state of moral philosophy in his books After Virtue (1984) and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (1988). MacIntyre argues that a full understanding of moral philosophy today is constrained by failure to appreciate historical context. He proposes a disquieting scenario to illustrate what he deems the state of affairs today. Imagine, he suggests, through some terrible catastrophe all the scientists in the world were wiped out and with them the thinking and practice they engaged in. Some time later, when people seek to revive science they would only be partly successful; they would have to rely on clues from remnants of documentation, pieces of laboratory apparatus and a scattering of folk ideas. The practice of science would be gone. Although MacIntyre uses this vista to illustrate how, he believes, we have lost the way (and means) of moral philosophy, he is also making a point about ‘practice’. Human activities directed and sustained toward Read More …

Learning about Thinking from James Joyce

In my view one of the best ways to study learning and thinking is to look to literature and in this arena one figure stands out for the manner in which he conveys the human thought process in print. I am of course referring to James Joyce. In this short review I present some aspects of Joyce’s work from the perspective of insights on how we think and learn. My argument is that great literature resonates with our thought processes. In reading Joyce we are provided with a working model of the inner structures and mechanisms through which we experience the world. I approach this analysis from the perspective of the average reader rather than the rich practice of Joycean scholarship. As such, my remarks are confined to my own, somewhat surface, impressions and interpretations of the literature. Almost at every point in Joyce’s work there are many layers of meaning and great pleasure can be derived from reading and rereading the passages. My analysis is based around five short lessons: Lesson One The Inner Narrator Consider the opening lines from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Once upon a time and a very good time it was Read More …

My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell

I am reading a wonderful book called My Philosophical Development by Bertrand Russell – I picked up a 1959 first edition in a wonderful second hand bookshop, Trinity Books in Carrick On Shannon.  This is like a beginners guide to Russell by himself and, in it he traces his thinking down through the years.There is a particularly poignant section where Russell reproduces copies of his notes from his teenage years.  He writes (p280): Just before and just after my 16th birthday, I wrote down my beliefs and unbeliefs, using Greek letters and phonetic spelling for the purposes of concealment.What Russell was at pains to conceal at this young age were his doubts about religion and the existence of God.   What troubled him was not necessarily the social consequences but rather, the intellectual consequences.Here is is entry of April 29th 1988: In all things I have made a vow to follow reason, not the instincts inherited partly from my ancestors and gained gradually by selection and partly due to my education.  How absurd it would be to follow these in the questions of right and wrong.  For as I observed before, the inherited part can only be principles leading to the Read More …