General philosophical post today.  It doesn't seem David Brooks has read Aristotle.  Had he read Aristotle, he would have not written this:

Socrates talked. The assumption behind his approach to philosophy, and the approaches of millions of people since, is that moral thinking is mostly a matter of reason and deliberation: Think through moral problems. Find a just principle. Apply it.


UPDATE.  Ok, on the strength of a conversation with one of the commentators here, I will add the following two paragraphs (directly from above) to make the Aristotle point clearer.

One problem with this kind of approach to morality, as Michael Gazzaniga writes in his 2008 book, “Human,” is that “it has been hard to find any correlation between moral reasoning and proactive moral behavior, such as helping other people. In fact, in most studies, none has been found.”

Today, many psychologists, cognitive scientists and even philosophers embrace a different view of morality. In this view, moral thinking is more like aesthetics. As we look around the world, we are constantly evaluating what we see. Seeing and evaluating are not two separate processes. They are linked and basically simultaneous.

Now discuss (again).

5 thoughts on “Phronesis”

  1. Wait–why does Brooks’ getting Socrates’ views wrong imply to you he hasn’t read Aristotle?

  2. Hm. I don’t know that he’s getting Socrates wrong as ignoring obvious and well known alternatives to that view, such as, for instance, Aristotle’s.

  3. The silly thing about this piece is Brooks’s oversimplification of the history of moral philosophy. I’m not claiming that he ought to either write a dissertation on this topic or not write about it at all. But, what is annoying is the facile dichotomy Brooks makes between moral reasoning and evolutionary/scientific views in ethics. The truth of the latter views would not, as the title of the piece implies, entail the “end of philosophy.” In every case, that assertion will never stop being funny, and its even sillier when you consider that Brooks is obviously making a cheeky reference to Fukuyama’s “end of history” (though the similarity between the two positions pretty much ends there).

    What is facile about the dichotomy is that Brooks has made no effort to at least mention that there have been differing ethical views in the course of 2400 years, and some of them might even resemble the view that Brooks is uncritically endorsing.

    Philosophy, unlike the sciences, is not a subject that lends itself to appeals to expert authority very well. So, when Brooks quotes people in this piece, their claims are taken as evidence that their views are correct. Only the Philosopher has held this status in Western philsophy. Perhaps Brooks should have read him.

  4. Horrible choice of words for the title of the article. I wonder if that was the editor’s choice, rather than his. Jem, I think “the oversimplification” and “the facile dichotomy” are both the results of the title that misleads us.
    Maybe what he’s trying to demonstrate is a little less ambitious: the fact that humans have some a priori moral feelings, and these feelings don’t seem to be compatible with the view of that of evolution.

    I don’t know if Brooks read Aristotle, but it sounds that Kant is more appropriate for him 🙂

  5. One of the things that struck me about this article is the complete disphasia between the first sentence and the rest of the first paragraph: “Socrates talked” — Socrates probably also farted, so what? All the people I know talk, yet many of them make no more of a stab at an examined life than my cats (who will also wander around making noisy vocalizations). Absent some explicit connection, the fact of Socrates’ talking tells us nothing about him, his life, his methods, interests or ideals. (It is to be observed that there may have been such connecting links in the article as originally written which were then edited out for length.)

    But an even deeper issuen (to me) is the failure to reflect on something as basic as the difference between “is” and “ought.” Moral philosophy has alway been about how people ought to think; that they do not (as a rule) actually think this way scarcely qualifies as either surprising or interesting. So providing evidence that people do not in fact think about moral issues the way moral philosophers argue that they ought to think about moral issues fall under the heading of “Duh”.

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