Dependent Rational Animals
Why Human Beings Need the Virtues
The Paul Carus Lectures 20
In Dependent Rational Animals, Alasdair MacIntyre compares humans to other intelligent animals, ultimately drawing remarkable conclusions about human social life and our treatment of those whom he argues we should no longer call "disabled." MacIntyre argues that human beings are independent, practical reasoners, but they are also dependent animals who must learn from each other in order to remain largely independent. To flourish, humans must acknowledge the importance of dependence and independence, both of which are developed in and through social relationships. This requires the development of a local community in which individuals discover their own "goods" through the discovery of a common Good.
"MacIntyre—one of the foremost ethicists of the past half century—makes a sustained argument for the centrality, in well-lived human lives, of both virtue and local communities of giving and receiving. He criticizes the mainstream of Western ethics, including his own previous position, for not taking seriously the dependent and animal sides of human nature, thereby overemphasizing the powers of reason and the pursuit of autonomy. MacIntyre wishes to construct an ethic based on a view of human nature in which humans share traits with other animals, are often reduced to dependency on others, and yet can rise to the status of independent rational thinkers capable of directing their own lives. In this neo-Aristotelian ethic, the virtues of both acknowledged dependence and independent reasoning are required to live well as humans. The virtues, however, require communities to foster them. MacIntyre thinks that both the modern family and the nation state fail as such communities and suggests that we must seek other types of social congregations in order to develop well as human beings. This important work in ethics is essential for the professional philosopher and is highly readable for students at all levels and for thoughtful citizens."
"With clear, nuanced, and remarkably compelling justificatory reasoning, MacIntyre delineates personal and social forms of moral life that facilitate our flourishing virtue of, rather than despite, human dependence."
—Anita Silvers, author of Disability, Difference, Discrimination