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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Act Rationally, April 14, 2005
This review is from: Rational Man (Paperback)
Henry Veatch's RATIONAL MAN is both an introduction to ethics and an introduction to Aristotelian ethics. Although published in 1962, the book remains one of the best introductions to ethics. It's written in non-technical language and contains plenty of examples from literature and life.

Following Aristotle, Veatch develops a theory of ethics broadly within the natural law tradition. Contrary to the skeptical or relativistic approach, man can have ethical knowledge. Ethics is based on human nature and the goal ("end") of man's life determines what is right. For man, that end is "intelligent living" or the "examined life." Veatch disagrees with Aristotle, however, in arguing that a life of contemplation is not ethically superior to intelligence applied to the problems of everyday life.

Along the way, Veatch discusses a number of questions and counterarguments, such as the "is/ought" problem, utilitarianism, whether a belief in moral absolutes leads to intolerance, and the possibility of ethics without God. In a few places I thought Veatch skimmed over objections too lightly (for example, the obvious counterargument that crooks like Goebbels and Stalin were intelligent in their own way), but this is a minor complaint.

The Liberty Fund edition contains a useful introduction by Douglas Rasmussen. Veatch (1911-1999) was an important voice in the twentieth century Aristotelian renaissance and those who know him only through this book will be impressed with his list of publications in most areas of philosophy
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Timeless interpretation of Aristotelian Ethics, November 27, 2009
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This review is from: Rational Man (Paperback)
Originally written as a counterargument to Wm Barrett's "Irrational Man", this book stands alone as the best and clearest explanation of Aristotle's ideas concerning man's ultimate objective-- to be rational. The bedrock of western thought written in clear and straightforward language. Prof Veatch grew up in Indiana and was extremely proud of his common sense roots in the midwest. It was no wonder he was so drawn to the "common sense philospher" --Aristotle. Prof Veatch taught at Indiana U, Northwestern and at Georgetown University where he was Chair of the Philosophy Dept in the 70s. I took six classes from Prof Veatch and he was my advisor. A privilege I will never forget. My daughter is majoring in Perspectives at Boston College-- a four-year, interdisciplinary course of study grounded in the great texts of Western Culture. She's using Professor Veatch's books as secondary source material to help focus her studies. You might ask, in these times, what does the study of philosphy and Aristotle in particular, have to do with the practical world? Everything, I suspect. And if you think that your time would be better spent ruminating on statistical analysis and quantitative modelling, that's what Citibank,Lehman and Bear Stearns thought to all of pur regret. Many financiers trained in philosophy saw through the dubious constructs of the rating agencies and Wall Street and thrived.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Aristotle for Modern Times, November 10, 2006
This review is from: Rational Man (Paperback)
The ancient Greek aphorism, "The unexamined life is not worth living" is attributed to Socrates, but Aristotle worked out its meaning in his book "Nicomachean Ethics." More than 2,300 years later, American philosopher Henry Veatch revives Aristotle's ethics of rational man to show that we can lead moral and intellectually virtuous lives.

Veatch argues that a virtuous life is possible because self-reflective individuals can use reason to inform the conduct of their lives. Reason is more than the sum of practical or professional knowledge. Reason is that self-aware, critical gaze that moves us to make the proper choices in our conduct. In any situation, if our choices are wise and intelligent, then we will have acted virtuously, which is the natural end or purpose of our development.

Veatch centers his ethics in the person, with an eye toward crowning reason as the key to an examined, and thus happy life. He asserts that values and facts are not separated in human nature. Our lives are infused with values, and reason turns values into virtues. When applied correctly, rational thinking can lead to the perfection of human nature. When applied to the wrong ends, such as wealth or power, rational thinking can lead to unhealthy or shriveled selves.

The moral virtues--courage, temperance, honesty and self-respect--are real values that are present in human nature and are needed for the good life. Yet, there are no fast and firm rules on how and when to act virtuously. Virtues are the ends to which we should direct our thinking, but the specific situation and issue will determine what the virtuous response should be.

The relationship between moral virtue and intellectual virtue is paradoxical. Our purpose, or aim, is to live virtuously, yet we do not know prima facie what the virtuous course is. Instead, virtue is a potential in all of us that can be realized if we think intelligently on how to conduct our actions.

Veatch argues that other schools of ethics--relativism, utilitarianism, existentialism, and fatalism--miss the mark in describing the relationship between values and fact in human experience. These schools place the source of ethics in various passions or irrational facets of human nature. Relativists come in for an especially withering critique. Veatch points out that Relativism has produced a wide variety of incompatible ethical prescriptions--tolerance, might makes right, conformity, and libertinism. This diversity of prescriptions exists because the relativist school lacks a strong central core.

In some ways, Veatch's critique of other schools of ethics is his most valuable contribution. His goal of reconstituting rational man for the modern (or post-modern) world comes up short. At the end, one is left to wonder if Veatch's sunny views of human nature and rationalism are more of an ideal than a reality. He rebukes the nihilism that underlies existentialism, but does not the cruelty of war, famine, and death mitigate against perfection? In the end, we are all dead, and perfection remains far away. All we are left with is our hopes for things to get better.

Veatch admits that human beings can form notions of "absolute and infinite good." Yet, even with a superbly examined life, illuminated by reason, human beings remain empty at the core, stuck in the interminable fight between what we are versus what we are not. Nevertheless, the school of "practical wisdom" elucidated by Veatch stands out for its optimism and common-sense appeal.
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Rational Man
Rational Man by Henry Babcock Veatch (Paperback - March 1, 2003)
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