To understand MacIntyre takes work. Indeed, he intends for it to be a daunting and challenging task to understand him. I suspect he assumes most of his readers, possessed as they must be by the reading habits of modernity, cannot help but refuse to do the work necessary to understand him. Which is but another way to say, as he makes explicit in the last chapter of Whose Justice?
He is able not only to write in a scholarly and intelligent manner about Aristotle, Abelard, and Aquinas, but he is equally adept when he treats Freud, Lukacs, Weber, and Wittgenstein. I sometimes have the impression he has never forgotten anything he has read.
Alasdair MacIntyre - Critic of Modernity (Hardcover)
Few know what MacIntyre knows, but to understand MacIntyre it is often necessary to have read what he has read. He seldom discusses a figure for no reason, but each philosopher, artist, and historical figure he examines becomes integral to the argument he is making. He is equally at home in the technical philosophy of brain and mind as he is in political and social theory. That he is so adept is not just an indication of his mental power but is integral to his understanding of philosophy, which he attributes to the influence of R.
M acIntyre has always been driven by a desire to repair our lives morally. Nowhere is his moral project more apparent than in a short essay in Against the Self-Images of the Age , originally published in There he identifies two groups of questions requiring further investigation after his analysis of the inadequacies of Marxism.
The first involves the nature of moral judgment and the meaning of such key evaluative words as good, right, virtue, justice, duty, and happiness. He notes that Marxists share with conservative philosophers a disdain for concerns about the meaning of language, but he observes that it is exactly at the level of language that the moral inadequacies and corruptions of our age are evident. The second group of questions he raises in the essay concerns the explanation of human action: whether we can find reasons for actions in the modern world that would not only enable us to act effectively but also move us to act in a manner that who we are and what we do are of a piece.
He pursues that investigation by analysis of philosophical alternatives, because, as he says in After Virtue , key episodes in the history of philosophy were what fragmented and largely transformed morality. Their attempt to develop accounts of morality in the name of some impersonal standard was an understandable response to the loss of shared practices necessary for the discovery of goods in common. Such a project was doomed to failure, however, exactly because no such standards can be sustained when they are abstracted from the practices and descriptions that render our lives intelligible.
Modern moral philosophy becomes part of the problem, for its stress on autonomy, like its corresponding attempt to free ethics from history, produces people incapable of living lives that have narrative coherence. But the After Virtue was the book in which his mature position received its most compelling presentation. In the preface to the second edition , MacIntyre said that he will be able to overcome the mistakes he made in A Short History of Ethics only when he writes something called A Very Long History of Ethics. Yet many of his friends and colleagues suggest that is exactly what the bulk of his work comprises: A Short History led him to write After Virtue , only to retell the story again in Whose Justice?
Each of these books contains wonderful new material, of course. I do not think, for example, the chapters on Plato and Aristotle in Whose Justice? Yet there is some truth to the contention that the story the books tell remains similar. Like a great novelist, MacIntyre often goes over the same ground. But through the development of subplots and the introduction of new characters, the story he tells is thickened and made more complex.
For example, he has had to deal often and critically with issues surrounding the mind-body distinction, as well as those who assume that a strong distinction must be drawn between facts and values the assumed impossibility to move logically from an is to an ought. Though clearly separable, these philosophical problems are interrelated to the extent that they each served to set modern philosophy and ethics on a mistaken path.
And the rest, as the story goes, is history. Here he argues that essential to our learning to act is that we learn to behave in a way that others can construe our actions as intelligible.
The Virtues of Alasdair MacIntyre by Stanley Hauerwas | Articles | First Things
Yet the ability to narrate my life depends on having narratives available that make my peculiar life fit within narratives of a community that direct me toward an end that is not of my own making. The intelligibility of my life, therefore, depends on the stock of descriptions at a particular time, place, and culture. I am, at best, no more than a co-author of my life. Liberal political societies are characteristically committed to denying any place for a determinative conception of the human good in their public discourse, let alone allowing that their common life should be grounded in such a conception.
Ethics and Politics ends with a fascinating defense of the virtue of toleration and free speech.
“Once a Marxist….”: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Revolutionary Aristotelianism
MacIntyre, moreover, understands that there is no past to which we might return. Yet MacIntyre thinks we can gain some understanding of the moral character of modernity only from the standpoint of a different tradition—in particular, the tradition of the virtues represented by Aristotle. Aristotle provided MacIntyre with an account of why our actions require a conception of an end as well as the social and political conditions necessary to sustain a life formed by the virtues constitutive of that end that is simply lacking in modern moral practice and theory.
MacIntyre notes that when he wrote After Virtue he was already an Aristotelian but not yet a Thomist. His Thomism came when he became convinced that in some respects Aquinas was a better Aristotelian than Aristotle. Indeed, MacIntyre reports, he learned that his attempt to provide an account of the human good in social terms was inadequate without a metaphysical grounding.
MacIntyre responds to these worries in a chapter in The Task of Philosophy , where he argues that first principles are not simply given before our engagement in a mode of inquiry. MacIntyre understands himself to be a metaphysical realist. Truth is the relation of an adequated mind to its object, but MacIntyre insists that the activity of enquiry is the necessary condition for the discovery of first principles.
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This is the metaphysical expression of his understanding of action—or, perhaps better put, his defense of first principles helps us see how his account of action has been metaphysical from the beginning. Thus his agreement with Thomas Aquinas, against Aristotle, that the proper object of human knowledge is not essence qua essence. Because we know essences only through effects, for MacIntyre there is no place to begin but in the middle. So, too, the virtues are equally subversive in capitalist social orders.
For MacIntyre, the practices necessary for training in practical reason through which we acquire the ability to act intelligibly requires the systematic growth of human potential by acquired excellence that cannot help but challenge the character of modern moral practice and theory. C onservatives who think they have found an ally in MacIntyre fail to attend to his understanding of the kind of politics necessary to sustain the virtues. He makes clear that his problem with most forms of contemporary conservatism is that conservatives mirror the fundamental characteristics of liberalism.
We are constrained by our time and place, but we are not predetermined by our time and place. There are numerous ways in which human beings can flourish but also numerous ways in which we can fail to flourish.
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MacIntyre suggests that historical context, while it constrains our moral reasoning and affects how we define flourishing, does not eradicate persisting insights into flourishing which get differing but equivalent expressions that historical conditions do not make impossible. The histories of expressivist agents are primarily histories of their affections, of what they have cared about and of how they came to care about what they care about.
The histories of NeoAristotelians are histories of how thy succeeded or failed in becoming better judges of what it is for a human being to flourish qua human being and to act accordingly. In the end the Aristotelian describes more completely the elements of moral choice-making. MacIntyre is not through.
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Leo recognized the interconnectedness of all persons in society, and he defended the living wage and some degree of leisure time as means to support the traditional family. To sum up, social life is a cooperative life. The author lists at length the admirable accomplishments of modern liberating movements in the sciences and the arts.
Grossman lived two incompatible lives: he was a loyal Stalinist yet recognized the crimes of the Stalinist regime. If the reader expects from this a broad critique of Soviet life, one will find such a critique but only balanced against its equivalent in the West. James, in different ways, achieved partial reflectiveness working within but at times standing apart from their historical context.
James, brought up in colonialist Trinidad as an Anglican with Wesleyan tendencies, was inculcated with classical literature and Puritan restraint. A black man raised in the exploited third world, he wanted to write and play cricket. Eventually he moved to London and Bloomsbury, and found Marxism. He criticized Stalin, and eventually Trotsky. Against the view that there is a universal class of workers, James asserted the need of a separate movement for black workers.
He also saw that Marxists did not have compelling answers to why those whose lives had advanced in capitalist society should rebel against it. He came to the view that, even if committed to a movement such as Marxism, one is still an individual who should have the courage to pursue the vocation one finds for oneself. In the end, James embraced both radical reform of society and the fundamental importance of family, tradition, social life.
Denis Faul grew up in the conservative, Catholic culture of Ireland, was ordained a priest, and taught for 40 years in a Catholic school. He opposed the Irish Republican Army, but eventually entertained a Marxist interpretation of the conflict between Catholics and Protestants as a disguised form of class warfare, and he took up the cause of democracy against the Protestant domination of Northern Ireland. Faul became as well a figure of non-violent public protest against the use of force and violence by the IRA. His conservative Catholicism went together with his active opposition to violence on all sides, and he was attacked from all sides.
MacIntyre concludes that these four lives represent successful practical reasoning under very different circumstances. They are exemplary but not generalizable to other quite different situations, except that all enjoyed a good upbringing in sound families and found good friends.
Nor does he suggest where one should look for such guidance. To sum up, Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity makes a strong argument against expressivism and offers an understanding of Aristotle and Aquinas which makes it hard to dismiss them as out-of-date. It is doubtful, though, that Marx will be raised to the status of these thinkers on the strength of this book, for MacIntyre is a clever but not unprecedented voice for the argument that Marx is misunderstood. Perhaps this is also his justification for his own practical reasoning, which reasoning leads to his alienation from modernity, capitalism, and America.
Presumably Alasdair MacIntyre hopes that his moral dialogue might bring others to see the world as he sees it. About the Author. Your email address will not be published.