Thursday, January 31, 2008

Philosophical Quote of the Day: Internal and External Goods

It's from Drucilla Cornell, but she's discussing the work of Alasdair MacIntyre in After Virtue. I'm copying it because I find interesting the discussion of "internal" and "external goods" as delineations between a particular action and the social context outside of it:
He [MacIntyre] explains the concept of "goods internal to" a practice by the example of teaching a child to play chess. Initially, he suggests, the child might learn to play only if given, say, money or a piece of candy, which would represent for MacIntyre goods external to the practice of playing this game. In time, however, the child may learn to play for the goods internal to the game -- for example, the achievement of a particular "analytical skill, strategic imagination and competitive intensity." It is only when the child plays the game with these internal goods in mind that she can be truly said to be engaging in a practice. Unlike the money or candy, these internal goods are not particular to the individual; they are for the good of the entire community of practitioners. By having them as a goal the individual practitioner can indeed benefit the others: the child in MacIntyre's example may discover a new chess move that will enhance the game's practice.

As MacIntyre's definition of a practice indicates, there are rules and standards of excellence for a practice that constitute the practice itself. When an initiate enters a particular practice, she must learn the rules and accept the authority of the definitive standards lest she be said not to be engaged in the practice at all. Here MacIntyre stresses the social aspect of the practice: the child cannot obey certain rules and pay attention to a few standards and still be said to play the "complex form of socially established cooperative activity" called chess. Like [*317] the practice's goods, however, its standards and rules are not immutable; they have changed in the history of the practice and are subject to the practitioners' criticism. MacIntyre suggests -- and this seems to be the final point in his definition -- that by pursuing the practice's present goods according to its authoritative standards of excellence and rules, the practitioner might arrive at new conceptions of these goods, standards, and rules.

Drucilla Cornell, Toward a Modern/Postmodern Reconstruction of Ethics, 133 U. PA. L. REV. 291, 316-17 (1985).

I'm not sure I agree with MacIntyre entirely on this (MacIntyre's next step is to say this reunites fact and value by defining virtue through the internal goods of a practice, but Cornell points out several serious problems with this formulation), but it's certainly interesting.


Stentor said...

One big catch with this formulation, I think, is that so many practices are deeply internally contested. Marriage, for example, is a practice that different people engage in for different internal goods and thus according to different interpretations of the rules. It's not clear how you'd decree that one of those forms is the true version of marriage and everybody else is misusing or improperly playing the practice. Nor would most people accept the idea that those different forms of marriage are all actually entirely separate practices that have gotten improperly labeled with the same name ("marriage").

Mark said...

Thoughts like that are what I was getting at when I was telling you that in the sciences (and I think other fields as well), what is termed here as the internal goods, or the aesthetics of beauty of a particular field or pursuit drive the ideas of what is interesting to study.

Hence the argument that ethnic diversity was not relevant or in your words, "salient" in driving what is being studied or and interesting factor of those who study it.

Cycle Cyril said...

Interesting but typical of postmodern philosophy in which a basic concept is taken and made confusing and then twisted to conform to a preset belief.

First note that without links I'm only working from this entry.

What is "goods", whether internal or external, but motivation. In years past in the Cheders of Europe they would teach the Aleph-Bet to children by covering the letter (on a board) with honey and then have the child taste the honey. This was a motivation driven by sweetness which for a few progressed to an innate love of the language and learning. But for most they learned to learn and used this skill for the sake of Judaism and in other endeavors whether their motivation was internal or not.

Similarly a baseball player may be motivated by money or the pure joy of playing or both. But whatever the source of the motivation he is contributing to the community. He does not have to be motivated by "internal goods" to contribute to any community, however you may define it.

In fact the motivation of an individual has no bearing on whether he benefits the community. What matters more than anything with regards to benefiting the community are the interactions between the individual and the community and whether mutual feedbacks are absent or present and must be both positive and negative.

But this segment implies that only the "pure" "internal goods" benefit others. This is a classic trap in post-modernism in which it is only the intentions that count and not the results. In the extreme you can have truly awful results but they are explained away because the intentions, using the present terminology, are derived from "internal goods"

David Schraub said...

Two wrongs, as they say, don't make a right.

In this case, wrong number one is calling MacIntyre a post-modernist (he's a neo-Aristotelian), and wrong number two is saying post-modernist are solely concerned with intent (that's about as far away from post-modernism as you can possibly get -- post-modernists don't even concede the existence of an autonomous subject that could have a pure intent, let alone privilege intent above all else). I literally have no idea where you get the idea that post-modernists are intent-philes. Intent is far more privileged in the Kantian and Enlightenment reasoning which post-modernism was a reaction against.

I agree that MacIntyre's focus on intent is a weakness, but that's if anything an Enlightenment trap (and an avoidable one -- MacIntyre could easily say that only internal goods benefit the community but it doesn't matter if a practitioner is pursuing them or not).

Cycle Cyril said...

Post-modernism actually started with the enlightenment, but the French flavor, as opposed to the English flavor, under Rousseau. This was expanded upon by a variety of philosophers, particularly German ones in the beginning.

In some ways it was and still is a continuation of war between the French and British by other means.

As for intentions and post-modernism let's do a little thought experiment. Since in post-modernism everything is relative such that there is no absolute truth, or right or wrong, then the outcome of any action has no bearing on the determination of right/wrong. The only determinate is the intent.

David Schraub said...

Post-modernism did not "start with the enlightenment", except insofar as it was a reaction against it (in which case, Marxism "started with" capitalism). Rousseau was a modernist, as was Voltaire, and Montesquieu, and Descartes, and the other French dudes of the era. Post-modernism's Anglo roots are from the pragmatists (Dewey and company), and continentally from the Hegelians and Nietzsche, and later from the existentialists like Kierkegaard and Sartre.

Your thought experiment is silly for at least two reasons. One, post-modernists reject the Enlightenment mind/body split, so there's no grounds to think they'd care about any conceptual difference between intention and action. Two, by your own framework, post-modernists can't ultimately judge the rightness or wrongness of any act -- which you then immediately contradict by saying they can judge on intent. No -- post-modernists would say intentions are just as groundless and non-foundational as outcomes or essences or any other grounds we could make for such judging.

Moreover, insofar as post-modernists have undertaken a reconstruction of the ethical, they've taken a decided turn against intent and in favor of concrete outcomes. Unlike the Modernists, they split these off from universalist morality tales and instead locate them in provisional and situated frameworks. But intent, they'd argue, is the epitome of the type of claim they'd argue is ultimately specious and groundless.

Cycle Cyril said...

Rousseau was a "proto-post-modernist". If anything the Enlightenment is about reason and an objective reality. Rousseau, though commonly associated with the Enlightenment, was anti-rational. Just the fact that he considered the primordial state to be noble (i.e. the Noble Savage) as opposed to civilization is telling. Even more so is that while he believed civilization made man ignoble he was more than willing to have civilization, as manifested by the state, control society tightly, to make men conform to his conception of nobility I presume.

In no way can you truly say Rousseau was a modernist (except chronologically - in my view I consider modernists to use reason and reality as the basis of their philosophies such as most rationalists and empiricists. I also consider the beginning of post-modernism, rightly or wrongly, with Kant.)

As for my thought experiment you are right that a pure post-modernist will say that both intention and consequence cannot by deemed right or wrong, good or evil by themselves. Hence they will defer to the 'actor' and how he deems it. This is the essence of multiculturalism and the post-modern mind set that permits female genital mutilation (this has, unfortunately, become a favored example on this blog to illustrate such disregard of rational behavior though suttee would be another example.)