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If you have ever wondered whether the conversations going on in philosophy departments have anything to say to us folks outside them, an encouraging answer came in a three-part series last week at Public Discourse by Matthew O’Brien and Robert Koons, both of the University of Texas.  Last Monday, in ” What Does It Mean to Be a ‘Political Animal’? ” they argued for an ethical philosophy that situates human beings in social institutions, engaged in practices shaped by those institutions.  This avoids both arid individualism and fetid collectivism, and accounts for the interplay of nature and convention.

On Wednesday, in ” Moral Absolutes and the Humpty Dumpty Fallacy ,” O’Brien and Koons examined the role in moral decision-making of intention and choice, which cannot be reduced to mere aim or motive.  Here they provide what may be the best brief analysis of the now-notorious case of the abortion that took place at a (now formerly-) Catholic hospital in Phoenix.

The series wound up on Friday with ” Who’s Afraid of Metaphysics? ” in which the authors provided an instructive tour of the decline and fall of logical positivism in professional philosophy, the revival of metaphysics along Aristotelian and Thomistic lines, and the achievements and (in their view) shortcomings of the “new natural law” school of moral philosophy.  Lots of name-dropping here, and mentions of books one might never get around to.  But the signs are encouraging, that academic philosophy has something to say to us about how to live.  For much of the last century, there seemed reason to doubt this.

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