Tags

, , , , , , ,

‘All practical reasoning arises from someone’s asking the question “What am I to do?” The asking of that question itself has point only when some reason has presented itself to the agent, or has been presented to him or her, for doing something other than which he or she would in the normal way of things have next or at least quite soon proceeded to do. Good reasons for action, when they are effective in action-guiding, are causes, and a cause is always something that makes a difference to an outcome. In the case of human action most of the time in most circumstances the processes and procedures on which good (or bad) reasons for action impinge casually are those of the normal day with its schedule of routine activities and cessation from activity. This conception of the normal day, and of the normal month, the normal year, and so on, is of the first importance to understanding action and reasoning about action in any culture. The structure of normality provides the most basic framework for understanding action. Acting in accordance with those structures does not require the giving or the having of reasons for so acting, except in certain exceptional types of circumstance in which those structures have been put in question. Meals are eaten at certain prescribed times in certain prescribed company without anyone having to give reasons either to themselves or to others for so doing; likewise, work of the type assigned to those of each particular roles and status is assigned to certain scheduled periods; rituals both occupy parts of the routinised day and reinforce the habits of structured activity; and both serious play and casual pursuits have their own structure and their own place in the larger structures.

So acting upon certain specific reasons is usually exceptional and in normal circumstance is intelligibility only in terms of and against the background of the structures of normality. It is departing from what those structures prescribe which requires the having and the giving of reasons. And an adequately good reason for action is therefore in the first instance a reason good enough for doing something other than that which normality prescribes. Of course, when a reason is judged to outweigh the requirements of the customary structure, there is in the background the possibility of a not-yet-formulated judgement of some kind as to how good the reasons are for doing what the customary structures prescribes. And so reasoning which justifies particular requirements of that structure may emerge from the reasoning which puts it in question. But only in this secondary way to do agents find reasons for doing what is normally prescribed. Indeed, one of the functions of the structures of normality is that by making it unnecessary for almost everybody almost all the time to provide justifications for what they are to doing or are about to do, they relieve us of the what would otherwise be an intolerable burden. But this does not mean that the structures of normality may not themselves be understood, independently of and prior to any reasoning, as worthy of respect; and when they are so understood, it is commonly because the structures of normal life are taken to be a local expression of the order of the cosmos.’

p. 24-5

‘Perhaps this preempting of the Homeric image by Pericles explains in part why conservative, aristocratic politicians found it so difficult to respond successfully to Pericles and to his successors. For they above all treated the Homeric texts as canonical. But they also faced another kind of difficulty. Those who respond to periods of rapid and disruptive change by appealing for a retention of or a return to the ways of the past, to the customary, to the traditional, always have to reckon with the fact that in an established customary social order those who follow its ways do not have and do not need good reasons for so doing. The question of what constitutes a good reason for action is thrust upon them only when they are already confronted by alternatives, and characteristically the first used of practical reasoning will be to justify the pursuit of some good not to be achieved by following the customary routines of the normal day, month, and year. It is only later when these routines have more largely and more radically been disrupted that the question of whether it was not in fact better to follow the older ways unreflectively can be raised, and when the conservative offers his contemporaries good reasons for returning to an earlier relatively unreflective mode of social life, his very modes of advocacy provide evidence that what he recommends is no longer possible. So in Aristophanes’ comedies the conservative figures portrayed in his comedies are in part comic victims because forced to into the very rhetorical modes which they abhor in order to argue against those modes. And Aristophanes himself is so plainly a conservative sympathiser that this is significant evidence of the Periclean imagination.’

p. 54 – Whose Justice? Which Rationality? – Alasdair MacIntyre, 1988.

Advertisements