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C H A P T E R T W O Keeping Philosophy Relevant and Humanistic J O H N H A L D A N E I It is a privilege to participate in honoring one of our great living philosophers , but it is also somewhat daunting, the more so when the thinker has ranged as widely and proceeded as deeply as has Alasdair MacIntyre. One response to the challenge of discussing his ideas at this stage of his long and highly productive career is to survey his writings: identifying their themes; charting courses of development; noting critical reactions and his responses to these; taking stock, and taking breath, before continuing the retrospective toward a summary conclusion. I have not chosen to do this, however, in part because that task is so large and would require, as the record shows, the space of many chapters;1 also, it would have limited appeal to a readership likely to be already familiar with his writings and would test the patience of those interested in engaging issues addressed or posed by that work. It is perhaps ironic, though not at all paradoxical, that Alasdair MacIntyre has attracted the interest of intellectual chroniclers, for although his own work is sensitive to the personal, social, and historical contexts in which ideas are formed and embraced or rejected, he is not himself a chronicler at heart, or so I have concluded. Rather, he is an investigator keen to pursue the truth about a matter, or the practical good that is to be 37 38 JOHN HALDANE discovered by philosophical inquiry. In that respect his interest in the historical development of certain concepts, schemes of thought, and arguments is not that of the historian of ideas but that of one who sees value in making explicit, and gaining insights from, the fact that all philosophy is done historically. With that in mind, rather than offer an intellectual biography, I wish to try to characterize something of the spirit of MacIntyre’s approach to philosophy as I see it, and to say something about three sets of issues within recent and contemporary philosophy with which he has been concerned. These are first, the nature of ethics, second, the nature of thought and action, and third, the nature and practice of philosophy. The last of these, since it includes reflection on the first two but is more general, may also seem the most abstract and thereby the least ethically and politically relevant; but it is a striking feature of the way in which MacIntyre reflects on this issue that it focuses attention directly and somewhat uncomfortably on contemporary professional academic practice, particularly in the area of moral philosophy . In that way it becomes a form of social criticism, for what his analysis suggests is that much of what moral philosophers now do is characterized by a lack of cultural depth and of anthropological insight and may often exhibit mala fides. Before turning to these matters, however, I shall say something about the general character of MacIntyre’s thought as it is expressed in his writings . A prominent mode of his thinking appears to be a distinctive form of immanent critique, prompted by reflecting on what various figures and traditions have written about good and bad in action and in the social structures through which we are brought to action. That is, of course, an observation about the particularities of the man; but as it happens it happily corresponds to an idea he favors, namely that thinking is not primarily a matter of detached speculative reflection on the part of a purely intellectual and unencumbered self. Rather, it is an encultured social activity, reflecting its time and circumstances, and aiming at solutions to problems generated by experience and practice. II Since the publication in 1981 of After Virtue, MacIntyre has come to be regarded as one of the most significant critics of the morality and moral philosophy of modernity. Long prior to its publication, however, he had argued, in a manner then unusual in Anglo-American philosophy, that any attempt to understand moral concepts and moral reasoning without locating them in their social and historical contexts was bound to fail and, what is worse, was likely to lead to skepticism about the very possibility of moral justification, for as he claimed: “Moral concepts are embodied in and are partially constitutive of forms of social life.”2 If this thesis is now more familiar, that is largely due to MacIntyre...


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