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Reason, Tradition, and the Good

MacIntyre's Tradition-Constituted Reason and Frankfurt School Critical Theory

Jeffery L. Nicholas

Publication Year: 2012

In Reason, Tradition, and the Good, Jeffery L. Nicholas addresses the failure of reason in modernity to bring about a just society, a society in which people can attain fulfillment. Developing the critical theory of the Frankfurt School, Nicholas argues that we rely too heavily on a conception of rationality that is divorced from tradition and, therefore, incapable of judging ends. Without the ability to judge ends, we cannot engage in debate about the good life or the proper goods that we as individuals and as a society should pursue.

Nicholas claims that the project of enlightenment—defined as the promotion of autonomous reason—failed because it was based on a deformed notion of reason as mere rationality, and that a critical theory of society aimed at human emancipation must turn to substantive reason, a reason constituted by and constitutive of tradition. To find a reason capable of judging ends, Nicholas suggests, we must turn to Alasdair MacIntyre’s Thomistic-Aristotelianism. Substantive reason comprises thinking and acting on the set of standards and beliefs within a particular tradition. It is the impossibility of enlightenment rationality to evaluate ends and the possibility of substantive reason to evaluate ends that makes the one unsuitable and the other suitable for a critical theory of society. Nicholas’s compelling argument, written in accessible language, remains committed to the promise of reason to help individuals achieve a good and just society and a good life. This requires, however, a complete revolution in the way we approach social life.
“Jeffery Nicholas has written an important and valuable book that invites its readers to discover the difficulties of late modern Western thought from the perspective of twentieth-century critical theory, and to consider a response to those difficulties drawn from the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor.” —Christopher Stephen Lutz, Saint Meinrad Seminary and School of Theology

Published by: University of Notre Dame Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix-xii

We are rational animals, creatures endowed with reason. Yet our lives often seem irrational. We live lives of superstition, of faith, of fear, of nationalism, and reason often seems to be something we leave . . .

Abbreviations of Frequently Cited Works

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p. xiii-xiii

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Introduction: The Question of Reason

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pp. 1-17

“I want to be like Mike!” So went one advertisement for Nike. The Mike the character wanted to be like was Michael Jordan, former famed basketball player for the Chicago Bulls. Michael Jordan . . .

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Chapter 1: The Frankfurt School Critique of Reason

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pp. 19-54

Over sixty years ago, Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno penned their Dialectic of Enlightenment. They would be the first to admit that all texts have their own historicity—texts are defined by . . .

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Chapter 2: Habermas’s Communicative Rationality

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pp. 55-82

The critique of enlightenment reason from the perspective of the Frankfurt School of Social Research, particularly as formulated by Max Horkheimer, focused on subjective rationality as both devoid of . . .

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Chapter 3: MacIntyre’s Tradition-Constituted Reason

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pp. 83-123

Modernity suffers from a crisis of reason. The Enlightenment project failed because of the dominance of subjective rationality in modernity. Horkheimer and company outlined a program for . . .

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Chapter 4: A Substantive Reason

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pp. 125-170

I have argued that reason is substantive because it is an aspect of a socially and historically embodied tradition. Given this, the relation between substantive reason (the standards of reason) and the good . . .

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Chapter 5: Beyond Relativism: Reasonable Progress and Learning From

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pp. 171-217

Whether we talk about the military-industrial complex that hides the loss of hundreds and thousands of innocent lives in the language of “collateral damage,”1 or we discuss deals made between the . . .

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Conclusion: Toward a Thomistic-Aristotelian Critical Theory of Society

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pp. 219-226

A group of knights sought a fantastic dream—a Camelot where people were free and equal, justice reigned, and humanity controlled its destiny. These knights put their trust in one artifact, a great . . .


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pp. 227-232


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pp. 233-241


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pp. 243-250

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780268087647
E-ISBN-10: 0268087644
Print-ISBN-13: 9780268036645
Print-ISBN-10: 0268036640

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: NA
Publication Year: 2012