Thursday, June 25, 2015

Continuing self-education update

I'm pretty proud of myself. I'm about 15 pages out from finishing my year-or-so-long self-led course on virtue ethics. This, along with a few scattered papers here and there (okay mostly Nussbaum) was my syllabus:
  • The Bourgeois Virtues, by Deirdre McCloskey
    • The impetus for the whole project
  • After Virtue, by Alasdair MacIntyre
    • Offers the side benefit of being part of the conservative intellectual canon
    • Basically I think he fails in his effort to smash modern ethics and begs a big question in my mind
  • Virtues and Vices, by Philippa Foot
    • Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives was a pretty interesting essay.
  • Natural Goodness, by Philippa Foot
  • On Virtue Ethics, by Rosalind Hursthouse
    • The best book length introduction to VE I've read
  • The Morality of Happiness, by Julia Annas
    • Walkthrough of the debates about ethics in the ancient world, and a very good source for understanding eudaimonistic virtue ethics
    • Damn, the ancient Greeks were really smart!
  • Burdened Virtues, by Lisa Tessman
    • Pretty interesting discussion about how conditions of oppression can stifle virtue, but I thought the book really needed a discussion of phronesis and the unity of virtue.
  • Practical Intelligence and the Virtues, by Daniel Russell
    • Probably my favorite of the set, but also the hardest. I'm glad I read it last.
Clearly, I'm missing a lot of books. I haven't even read Annas's Intelligent Virtue. And I want to read more MacIntyre ... but I have to stop somewhere and start reading other things again. I have a blog post half written about why I like virtue ethics so much, but I've been too lazy to finish it. Basically, it's an organic theory that is flexible enough to describe our extremely complex and open-ended moral world. Eudaimonistic theories of VE at least have the advantage of remembering that morality has a purpose beyond just facilitating social cooperation: it should describe a robust, broadly construed conception of human happiness (or, even better, flourishing). It's holistic, taking as its concern the whole character, rather than limiting its scope to actions-in-the-vacuum, and only those actions that affect other people. And I think VE is just descriptively closer to how actual people deal with actual ethical life. We do learn our morals from stories read to us at our mother's knee that describe admirable character traits and good reasons for acting; we learn from moral instruction by role models; and we learn from long years in the school of hard knocks. Maybe some day I'll elaborate with a proper blog post.

Anyway, now that I'm temporarily done with virtue ethics, I have to decide what to read next. The very first thing I'm gonna read is Socialism After Hayek, by Theodore Burczak. I've long been really curious to learn more about Marxism/socialism, but I'd like to do so from a source that isn't obviously insane (I know, not very charitable). From what I understand, this book is written by a proper socialist, but one who explicitly acknowledges that, yeah, the socialists just flat out lost the socialist calculation debate. Maybe afterward if I feel like it I can delve deeper. I hear Gramsci was good?

After that, what? I'm interested in learning more about Kant, but I don't want to read Kant himself, because it's common knowledge Kant is hard as hell to read and fuck that, this isn't my day job. Any Kantians or Kant-knowledgeable folks out there have a good suggestions?

To be honest I'm also interested in going back to my libertarian roots. I've never gotten around to reading some of the classics, like Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia or JS Mill's On Liberty. Never read Herbert Spencer either, and it seems like he's mentioned everywhere. Then there's also a whole bunch of libertarian works on the near horizon I'm pretty excited about. Kuznicki has a book coming out about the nature of government. Zwolinski and Tomasi have their intellectual history of libertarianism coming out (which will doubtlessly expand my reading list). Brennan and van der Vossen have a book on global justice coming, something of especial interest to me given my interest in cosmopolitanism and open borders. And of course, Deirdre McCloskey's thrilling conclusion to her Bourgeois trilogy is coming out next year ...

I feel like I'm a shoddy libertarian because I haven't read some classics, but I haven't read any classics of feminist thought, apart from like, the first third of Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman and a couple essays by Voltairine de Cleyre. Feminism has become increasingly important to me in recent years, so I should probably do something about this. Second Sex is staring at me from my shelf.

Then there are the odds and ends. I'm sort of interested in Charles Murray's Coming Apart, Nassim Taleb's Antifragile, and the Singular Universe and the Reality of Time, by Roberto Unger and Lee Smolin.

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