« Steven Nemes' Review of Dietrich von Hildebrand's Ethics: Some Questions | Main | Camus, Virtue, and its Exhortation »

Saturday, January 02, 2021


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

I think you are incorrect in your critique. It seems to me that you confuse (i) the purpose of the watch with (ii) the fulfillment of the purpose of the watch. The way that a watch can be distinguished from a bracelet is that a part of the watch's essence is its purpose, namely that of "accurately telling the time." If a watch fails to fulfill its purpose, it thereby does not cease to be a watch, rather it attains a second-order property of having an unfulfilled purpose. Hence, if we distinguish the essential property of having a given purpose and the fulfillment of that purpose, then MacIntyre's argument seems to work, assuming that goodness is identified with purpose fulfillment. Hence a watch with an unfulfilled purpose, for example if it is inaccurate, is considered a bad watch.

For persons this has a interesting consequence because people are able to self-fulfill their purposes. Thus, perhaps, ethics can be considered to supervene on the extent and ability of any given person to self-fulfill their objective purpose.

What's a timepiece?

And don't you equivocate between having the function of being accurate and succeeding in being accurate?


Thanks for the response. You wrote,

>> The way that a watch can be distinguished from a bracelet is that a part of the watch's essence is its purpose, namely that of "accurately telling the time." If a watch fails to fulfill its purpose, it thereby does not cease to be a watch, rather it attains a second-order property of having an unfulfilled purpose.<<

We of course agree that a watch is a timepiece, a device typically worn on the wrist, the purpose of which is to tell time. But you smuggled 'accurately' into the definition. Now it is a plain fact the some watches are accurate and some are not. Therefore, by your definition a slow or fast (i.e. inaccurate) watch is not a watch.

If the purpose of a watch is accurately to tell time, then a device that does not accurately tell time cannot be a watch. Since that is plainly false, you must not import the evaluational/normative term, 'accurate' into your definition of 'watch.' And if you don't make this mistake, then you cannot validly infer (2) from (1).


1. This watch is inaccurate.


2. This is a bad watch.

(2) is clearly evaluative. BV and AM agree on this.

BV says: the argument is valid only if (1) is evaluative. (1) is evaluative, ergo the argument is valid. But this does not show that one can validly infer an evaluative claim from a factual claim.

AM says: The argument is valid, and (1) is factual, ergo, one can validly infer an evaluative claim from a factual claim.

BV says further that BV is right!


You distinguish between purpose and fulfillment of purpose. Good distinction! We agree as to what the purpose of a watch is, and we agree that some watches do not fulfill their purpose. So far, so good.

Now suppose I judge that my watch is inaccurate and I express my judgment verbally: 'This watch is inaccurate!' Is my statement evaluative or factual? It is clearly evaluative. I am measuring my watch against a standard of chronometric accuracy.

To generalize: whenever we say of a thing with a purpose that it fails to fulfill its purpose, we are evaluating, not stating a mere fact.

Of course, it is true that my watch is inaccurate, but a true statement is not the same as a factual statement as 'factual' is being used in this context.

'Fact' and 'factual' are polysemous.


I believe what I said in response to Aleksin applies also to your comment. Thanks for making it and Happy New Year to both of you.


Thank you for your response and Happy New Year! I admit that I have a made a few inaccuracies. Allow me to rephrase my answer. My point is that:

(1) A watch is a device that is worn on one's wrist and has the purpose of accurately telling the time

is not the same as:

(2) A watch is a device that is worn on one's wrist and accurately tells the time

Whereas (2) entails that an inaccurate watch is not a watch, (1) does not.
To put it even more simply. My definition of a watch would be a modification of (1):

(1*) A watch is a device that is worn on one's wrist and ought to accurately tell the time in order to be a good watch

I agree though, that my definitions do include evaluative judgements namely of what makes a watch good. So in the end, I have to agree that MacIntyre's argument does not work out.


P.S. On an unrelated note, do you think it is plausible to speak of non-essential but necessary properties of individuals? Although it would seem superfluous in most cases, I wonder whether God would have no metaphysical composition yet had necessary properties entailed by His 'simple' essence. Perhaps they would only be Cambridge properties though.


I see what you are saying.

D1. P is a non-essential property of x =df x can exist without instantiating P.

D2. P is a necessary property of x =df x cannot exist without instantiating P.

On these definitions there are no non-essential but necessary properties of individuals.

It seems to me that MacIntyre’s enthymeme is somewhat imprecise with respect to "bad." Arguably, there’s a difference between intrinsic and instrumental value. The term “inaccurate” suggests that (1) is evaluative in the instrumental sense. An accurate watch acquires instrumental value via its successful use as a timepiece; an inaccurate watch has instrumental disvalue (i.e., badness).

Perhaps this rendering of the argument helps to clarify that (1) is evaluative.

1. This watch is inaccurate.
2. Every inaccurate watch is an instrumentally bad watch.
3. This is an instrumentally bad watch.

As Bill noted, the attribute of (instrumental) value is present in (1).

Some watches are instrumentally good and others instrumentally bad. A watch is not by definition good. Generally: a tool is not by definition instrumentally good.

This speaks to an underlying flaw in the Aristotelian idea that the essence
of a thing can somehow be fully captured in a definition that includes that substance and excludes other substances. For example, humans are said to be "rational animals" by definition. But that does not imply all of what a human should be!

Is the full nature and form of a substance captured by precise classification?

Unfortunately, a medieval idea of cognition as involving the grasping of abstract essences by a rational soul was taken to also mean that one can grasp the proper nature of something though mere understanding of the proper substance classification of such an object of thought.

Do I, by understanding of the __definition__ of what a watch is, grasp what a good watch should be? No more than I grasp in a definition how to build or repair a watch. Those things require an understanding of aspects of function and structure that is far beyond mere classification.

Macintyre's argument was that, once you define being good as being a complete example of the kind of thing one is, the statement that something is of a certain kind ("this is a watch") necessarily entails normative judgements of that thing. Those judgements are distinct from what the thing is, but they can't be denied once one recognizes what it is.

So, for instance, the ideal measuring device is one that measures to an infinite precision. A watch that isn't accurate fails to exemplify that ideal; a watch that doesn't run fails even more drastically. The statements "these are watches", "this watch loses time" and "this watch is broken" are all factual; but the first implies a standard, while the second and third entail that the watches fall short of that standard.

The normative premise here is, then, "a thing ought to be completely the kind of thing it is"; everything ought to fulfill its nature and essence. Of course it's better to state it than to leave it out. But it's kind of hard to object to it, unless you deny that things have inherent natures (as Hume in fact did.)

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



January 2021

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
          1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30
Blog powered by Typepad