Monday, 7 December 2009

Plague-Sight. — If deadly germs were capable of conscious retrospection, they would be able to look back upon the advance of their own kind throughout a decaying body and see nothing amiss in that regard, but would indeed find much cause for satisfaction at the progress they had made. It is much the same with blighters in human form, as Alasdair MacIntyre suggests:
“History by now in our culture means academic history, and academic history is less than two centuries old. Suppose it were the case that the catastrophe of which my hypothesis speaks had occurred before, or largely before, the founding of academic history, so that the moral and other evaluative presuppositions of academic history derived from the forms of the disorder which it brought about. Suppose, that is, that the standpoint of academic history is such that from its value-neutral viewpoint moral disorder must remain largely invisible. All that the historian — and what is true of the historian is characteristically true also of the social scientist — will be allowed to perceive by the canons and categories of his discipline will be one morality succeeding another: seventeenth-century Puritanism, eighteenth-century hedonism, the Victorian work-ethic and so on, but the very language of order and disorder will not be available to him. If this were to be so, it would at least explain why what I take to be the real world and its fate has remained unrecognized by the academic curriculum. For the forms of the academic curriculum would turn out to be among the symptoms of the disaster whose occurrence the curriculum does not acknowledge.” [1]
Friedrich Nietzsche made a similar point: 
“My objection against the whole of sociology in England and France remains that it knows from experience only the forms of social decay, and in all innocence takes its own instincts of decay as the norm of sociological value-judgements.” [2]
It is good to see a latter-day Aristotelian and the original Nietzschean in some agreement. It is not always a case of Aristotle or Nietzsche, particularly when the latter, by his still good instincts, forgot his own doctrine and spoke as though there were an actual and essential standard of goodness wherefrom it would not be mere personal whim or world-trivial opinion to speak of decay.

[1] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London: Duckworth, 2007), p.4.
[2] [“Mein Einwand gegen die ganze Sociologie in England und Frankreich bleibt, dass sie nur die Verfalls-Gebilde der Societät aus Erfahrung kennt und vollkommen unschuldig die eigenen Verfalls-Instinkte als Norm des sociologischen Werthurteils nimmt.”] Friedrich Nietzsche, Götzen-Dämmerung, in Sämtliche Werke: Kritische Studienausgabe, Bd.6 (München: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1999), “Streifzüge eines Unzeitgemässen”, §.37, p.138.