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Monday, May 13, 2019

On Character and Intelligence

Alasdair MacIntyre, in his book After Virtue, notes that for Aristotle character is inseparable from intelligence. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 12, “Aristotle’s Account of Virtues” (Page 154-155):

“According to Aristotle then excellence of character and intelligence cannot be separated. Here Aristotle expresses a view characteristically at odds with that dominant in the modern world. The modern view is expressed at one level in such banalities as ‘Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever’ and at another in such profundities as Kant’s distinction between the good will, the possession of which alone is both necessary and sufficient for moral worth, and what he took to be a quite distinct natural gift, that of knowing how to apply general rules to particular cases, a gift the lack of which is called stupidity. So for Kant one can be both good and stupid; but for Aristotle stupidity of a certain kind precludes goodness. Moreover genuine practical intelligence in turn requires knowledge of the good, indeed itself requires goodness of a kind in its possessor: '... it is clear that a man cannot have practical intelligence unless he is good’.”

He notes that on this point, modern social practice and theory follows Kant rather than Aristotle: “It is indeed difficult to envisage the exaltation of bureaucratic expertise in any culture in which the connection between practical intelligence and the moral virtues is firmly established.”

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