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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Internal Goods

When I first read MacIntyre's description of external v. internal goods, I immediately thought of modern psychology's extrinsic v. intrinsic motivations. In one experiment, one group of testers are offered a monetary incentive to build a contraption as fast as they can (external good/extrinsic motivation). Meanwhile, the other group of testers is merely challenged to build as fast as they can and do the best they possibly can (internal good?/intrinsic motivation).

Guess what? The testers who are merely challenged to achieve excellence, and are not offered an incentive to do so, built the contraption 3.5 minutes faster than those who motivated by an external force.

(I guess this sets me up to resolve at some point the role modern psychology can play in illuminating MacIntyre/Aristotle's points. Jonathan Haidt offers: "Emotional responses in the brain, not abstract principles of philosophy, explain why people think various forms of the "trolley problem" (in which you have to choose between killing one person or letting five die) are morally different.")

We can make some sense of this in regards to the portrait painters referenced by MacIntyre. Motivating Rembrandt with a huge commission probably would not have made his artwork a commensurate amount better (if it made it better at all!). Rather, Rembrandt sought the internal goods of painting. While Michelangelo may have been forced to paint the Sistine Chapel (click for virtual tour), he clearly demonstrated a deep commitment to artistic excellence.

This is how internal goods "extend" human conceptions of the ends and goods. The internal goods challenge practitioners to excel towards an end that can be built upon and improved by the community. If the child played chess merely to gain money, then the art of chess playing is not being advanced.

Admittedly, I'm a little confused as to how there isn't a dark-side counter to this...for example, how isn't there an art to cheating at chess playing? Practitioners could engage subterfuges to "one up" each other to victory. Just as playing chess is something that can be excelled, why can't cheating at chess being something at which I can excel? Then again, if I were to propose this as an art both players would need to agree to cheat, and then agree at what would constitute too much cheating (ie would reaching over and rearranging his pieces constitute too much cheating), and in the end we would have just formalized another set of rules.

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