The notion of disordered philosophy as argued by Terrance Hoyt is quite relevant at present. Disordered philosophies have polarized public discourse to the point where political and economic policy issues are now considered strictly moral: "Look for any policies talked about with intense moral language, that allow no compromise, and are all-or-nothing in their implementation," Hoyt states.
Marx and Rand represent opposite ends of the political spectrum and their respective philosophies have had untold influence. Both produced an extremist brand of thought based on a "morally pure," vision of society. And neither fits the description of a "good man," (or woman in Rand's case) based on Aristotle's criteria of inward focus on virtue. Disordered philosophers are not truly concerned about virtue or the good; they are essentially egoistic.
More disturbingly, philosophical personality types (I'm including myself here) seem to be at higher risk of becoming disordered philosophers as evidenced by a new book, When Reason Goes on Holiday. As thoughtful people concerned about virtue, what can we do to avoid falling victim to disordered philosophy? How can we identify and counter disordered philosophies which lead to increasing polarization and destabilization?
What is Disordered Philosophy?
Hoyt expands on this, defining a disordered philosopher as essentially egositic, who advances a kind of extremism motivated by a morally pure vision of society at any cost to stability (as opposed to maximizing the probability that most citizens are able to get their basic needs met in peace and stability.) Hoyt also argues that disordered philosophers conflate the economic and/or political with the strictly moral (the pursuit of virtue).
In my last post, I argued that public policy is essentially utilitarian, and therefore, it does no good getting angry with people over their political views as though these have anything to do with true morality - which should be based on one's personal actions. My argument dovetails nicely with Hoyt's insistence that those influenced by disordered philosophy - unfortunately many people today - tend to confuse the political and economic with the strictly moral.
While I'm not sure that I fully accept Hoyt's idea that political and economic policy issues have no moral component (if that is even what Hoyt is arguing since his book is still forthcoming), I certainly agree with the idea that economic and political matters are not strictly moral, and certainly not from a virtue ethics perspective. We have politicized virtue to the point that many people today conflate their political and economic views with their moral views.
"When activism is motivated by any felt moral absolute; any idea of perfection, it leads to an increase in political instability...Whether from the left or right, neither force nor freedom will make up for the absence of a philosophically robust notion of virtue in society," Hoyt states.
As a corollary, he also argues that the Enlightenment's focus on the strictly rational had the effect of marginalizing those who truly care about virtue from public discourse. Marx's thought in particular may have been a reaction (albeit a disordered one) to the cold rationalism of the Enlightenment:
"The spirit of the Enlightenment has created a culture which at best ignores and at worst denigrates serious treatment of the sources of deep morality and goodness. This dismissal of virtue has contributed to a misplaced moral fanaticism that has recently begun to infect public policy."
The Four Personality Types and The Disordered Philosopher
According to Hoyt, only the philosopher type is concerned about virtue; the other types are assumed to be egoistic by default. Hoyt argues that the philosopher type can become a disordered philosopher when economic and political ideals are treated as strictly moral if not spiritual. Hoyt's forthcoming book:
"Seeks to shed light on the philosophical sources of the morally indignant activism many public intellectuals have subscribed to in the late 20th and early 21st century. The resurgence of a Puritanical spirit in our politics is a threat to the stability of the United States, for it prevents policy making for the practical good of the citizen."
Hoyt places the blame partly on education, stating:
How else are we to interpret the odd treatment of the political-economic as a realm to which we are supposed to apply intense moral passion? Both on the left as well as on the right, public intellectuals for the most part focus exclusively on economic relations as the sole domain in which morality is and should be cultivated. Some treat low tax rates and the legalization of the ability to get rich at any cost as the new moral absolute, while others fetishize economic equality. When our public philosophy teaches the young that they should not care about public virtue or goodness but only a self-interest grounded in economics, we ought not be surprised when those with a sincere care for the common good confusedly seek meaning and virtue in the realm of political-economy.
Further evidence of the disordered philosopher phenomenon is detailed in a new book, When Reason Goes on Holiday by Neven Sasardic, which focuses on what happened when many modern philosophers wandered down from the ivory tower to pursue politics:
"Sesardic devotes a chapter to Gerald Cohen, the Oxford philosophy professor...[who took an] evil position during the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. The Hungarian theme continues through a chapter on Imre Lakatos, the philosopher of mathematics and science who helped purge non-communist faculty in Hungarian schools and planned the suicide of a young woman named Eva Izsak in 1944, in order to divert attention away from his communist cell."
Marx and Rand are further examples of disordered philosophers - essentially fanatical and egoistic in their treatment of economics - which Hoyt argues is corrosive to stability. Rand treats unlimited economic freedom as a strictly moral ideal. Marx does the same, except that he advances strict economic equality as a deep moral value. Not only did their respective philosophies revolve around a "morally pure," vision of society at any cost, but they both fail to live up to Aristotle's criteria for the "good man," i. e. one who is inwardly focused on becoming virtuous.
A disordered philosopher is never focused on trying to improve himself, but rather driven by the need to make society morally pure. From the perspective that a philosophy is something that ought to be lived, that ought to be transformative, and that compels us to pursue virtue, it should give us pause when a philosopher is not concerned with becoming a better person. Marx in particular seems to fail to live up to the Aristotelian vision.
How to Avoid Becoming a Disordered Philosopher
Socrates expected each person to be excellent, rational, and to care for their internal disposition. George Friedmann’s La Puissance de la Sagesse (The Power of Wisdom) expands on the necessity of a getting rid of egotism if we are to be involved in politics:
Try to get rid of your passions, vanities, and the itch for talk about your own name, which sometimes burns you like a chronic disease. Avoid backbiting. Get rid of pity and hatred. Love all free human beings. Become eternal by transcending yourself.
This work on yourself is necessary; this ambition justified. Lots of people let themselves be wholly absorbed by militant politics and the preparation for social revolution. Rare, much more rare, are they who, in order to prepare for the revolution, are willing to make themselves worthy of it.
In other words, the revolution inside - one focused on virtue - is more important than political revolution. We become disordered when we fixate on the external conditions of life while neglecting what is going on inside of us.
Furthermore, we must be reasonable people. As I have written in a previous post, being reasonable is one way to avoid being taken by propaganda, and I would also argue, by disordered philosophy. A reasonable person is never an extremist, remaining both open minded and rational. Jaques Ellul held that becoming a reasonable person is the proper end goal of social and philosophical development:
A reasonable person recognizes the limits and uncertainty of sources of information and shows a certain intellectual humility, being ready to cede ground to others in the light of additional facts or better judgements.
We are less disordered when we continually focus on becoming virtuous as well as expanding our capabilities for self-examination and good judgement.
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