Earlier today someone was talking to me about an article he read in a newspaper, which was making a claim along the lines that the gradual increase of intellectual awareness over time was leading to an increase of moral awareness. I was skeptical and said that the sort of moral formation we give the young these days doesn’t consist of much more than doing well in school, keeping away from drugs and being nice to other people.
We know more about the world than we knew before, but the specialization that follows from that, as well as the diminution of subjects like logic and grammar, have also made us less capable of thinking about what we know in a coherent, holistic sense. A similar phenomenon, I think, is found in our moral understanding.
The trouble isn’t relativism. A lot of people I know have had enough first hand experience of the darker side of life to know that it cannot just be ironically waved away. But what I often find is that this is coupled with a dire inability to know how to respond, or to see how things could be otherwise. Our moral grammar has become both dessicated and distended. The result is that our responses become a sort of ironic detachment anyhow.
It’s really the old Aristotelian notion that you cannot really begin to grapple with ethics until you’ve already had some experience with the virtues, and that that is an aspect of our lives in which we are extremely impoverished. And, if I’m willing to put on my MacIntyre cap, it involves the ability to unironically view one’s life as a sort of quest, whether or not that ultimately cashes out into a religious struggle between salvation and damnation (though I’d argue that this is where things would have to wind up).
I really want to develop this point further, buy my mind is refusing to cooperate with me right now, so I’ll just post this up and perhaps do a followup later.