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C H A P T E R O N E On Having Survived the Academic Moral Philosophy of the Twentieth Century A L A S D A I R M A C I N T Y R E How I Discovered That, by the Standards of Contemporary Academic Philosophy, Thomist Claims Must Be Problematic I was already fifty-five years old when I discovered that I had become a Thomistic Aristotelian. But I had first encountered Thomism thirty-eight years earlier, as an undergraduate, not in the form of moral philosophy, but in that of a critique of English culture developed by members of the Dominican order. Yet, although impressed by that critique, I hesitated, for those Dominicans made me aware of the philosophical presuppositions of their critique, of a set of Thomistic judgments about the relationships between body, mind, and soul, about passions, will, and intellect, about virtues and reason-informed human actions. And those theses I found problematic. Why so? From 1945 to 1949 I was an undergraduate student in classics at what was then Queen Mary College in the University of London, reading Greek texts of Plato and Aristotle with my teachers, while also, from 1947 onwards , occasionally attending lectures given by A. J. Ayer or Karl Popper, or by visiting speakers to Ayer’s seminar at University College, such as John Wisdom. Early on I had read Language, Truth and Logic, and Ayer’s 17 18 ALASDAIR MACINTYRE student James Thomson introduced me to the Tractatus and to Tarski’s work on truth. Ayer and his students were exemplary in their clarity and rigor and in the philosophical excitement that their debates generated. And I became convinced that the test of any set of philosophical theses, including those defended by Thomists, was whether it could be vindicated in and through such debates. Yet I also had to learn—and this took a little longer—that in the debates of academic philosophy in the twentieth century no set of theses is ever decisively vindicated. To excel as a contemporary academic philosopher is a matter of the quality of one’s analytic and argumentative skills, especially in their negative use to expose failures in the distinction making of others or gaps in their arguments, together with an ability to summon up telling counterexamples . Conceptual inventiveness is also valued. Excellence in the exercise of these qualities is compatible with holding different and incompatible sets of beliefs about which of the various philosophical positions in contention in one’s own specialized area is to be regarded as true and rationally justified, including those positions in contention over how truth and rational justification are to be understood. Disagreement on fundamental issues is in practice taken to be the permanent condition of philosophy . The range of continuing disagreements is impressive: realists versus antirealists in respect of mathematical, moral, perceptual, and historical judgments; dualists versus materialists in the philosophy of mind; utilitarians versus Kantians versus virtue theorists in ethics; Fregeans versus direct reference theorists in the philosophy of language; and a great many more. Add to these a range of disagreements in religion and politics that, themselves nonphilosophical, are closely related to philosophical disagreements : theists versus atheists, conservatives versus liberals versus libertarians versus Marxists. It is not that there is no progress in philosophical inquiry so conceived. Arguments are further elaborated, concepts refined, and creative new ideas advanced by the genius of a Quine or a Kripke or a Lewis. But this makes it the more striking that there is never a decisive resolution of any central disputed issue. So how should we think about this and respond to it? David Lewis wrote that “whether or not it would be nice to knock disagreeing philosophers down by sheer force of argument, it cannot be done” and that “once the menu of well-worked-out theories is before us, philosophy is a matter of opinion.”1 Each philosopher, that is, considers the costs of accepting this body of philosophical theses and arguments or rejecting that, tries to bring her or his judgments, philosophical and nonphilosophical , into equilibrium, and in so doing take sides in one of these irresolvable disputes. My own immediate response to my recognition of the conditions of academy philosophy was more modest. It was that, however strong the case for Thomism, there was bound to be a strong case against it. How I Discovered from Sartre and Ayer That Thomist Claims Are Problematic Very soon I was impressed by the...


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