On Running Away to the Circus

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    ‘Ethics and the Conflicts of Modernity’ begins with a consideration of how lives might go wrong through a series of failures in relation to desire. In probing the relationship between an agent’s desires and her beliefs, MacIntyre introduces a woman who has not considered “that she might run away and join the circus”, and as we learn a few lines later, this possibility evades her because she wrongly believes that she could not become a trapeze artist. Incautious readers may regard this as a flippant illustration; but that would be an error. Trapeze is an example of the type of practice in which, on MacIntyre’s account, participation both requires and develops virtues, and the circus provides a context for the type of virtuous local political community to which MacIntyre gives his allegiance.

    This paper uses the example of circus to illustrate the relationship between self-understanding and social order that underscores MacIntyre’s diagnoses of developments in mainstream moral and self-understanding. ‘Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity’ provides a largely sociological account as to why the distinctive and incoherent Morality of modernity persists, and moreover must persist, if the illusions of the conventional social order are to be maintained. MacIntyre’s allusions to such contexts as the circus manifest the same intimate relationship between self-understanding and social order, but in contrast to modernity, provide a context for coherence.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number349642
    Number of pages30
    JournalPolitics & Poetics
    Publication statusPublished - Jun 2018


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