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C H A P T E R T H R E E Ethics at the Limits A Reading of Dependent Rational Animals J O S E P H D U N N E Some of the different reasons for one’s indebtedness to philosophers whom one has read may be gleaned from Iris Murdoch’s dictum that “to do philosophy is to explore one’s own temperament while at the same time attempting to discover the truth.”1 In some philosophical writings one finds intuitions, and a way of articulating and defending them, with which one has an unforced, if not connatural, affinity: it seems as if truth and temperament tally so that to read is at the same time to recognize and be confirmed . But the texts that support such reading are hardly those from which one has most to learn. The latter may rather be those that, by offering greater resistance, put one’s thinking more on its mettle: they not only expose one to conflict between temperament and truth but ensure that in such conflict it is the claims of truth that are more strongly pressed. For me, Alasdair MacIntyre’s works belong in this latter category—though saying so does too little to disclose the scale of the debt I owe to him. Since the first irruptive impact of After Virtue nearly thirty years ago, his writings have become familiar features in my philosophical landscape: to think about almost any topic central to ethics and politics—or to education , the area of my special concern—is to think with (which may include against) him. In this essay I shall focus on one of his main works, 57 58 JOSEPH DUNNE Dependent Rational Animals. If I seek not only to emphasize the sympathetic and inspiring quality of this book but also to press a line of critical questioning against it, I have what I take to be good MacIntyrean reasons for doing so. For it is MacIntyre who has urged that “education . . . should be a preparation for constructive engagement in conflict”2 —with no implication that one should exclude from the range of such conflict those few thinkers whom one gratefully acknowledges as one’s indispensible teachers. And, as will become apparent toward the end of the essay, not least among those whom I enlist as allies in the present conflict with MacIntyre is MacIntyre himself. I Before indicating the purpose of my focus on Dependent Rational Animals (1999), and the direction of the discussion into which it will lead, I shall first situate this book within MacIntyre’s oeuvre by offering a construal of its relationship to its three immediate predecessors, After Virtue (1981),Whose Justice?Which Rationality? (1988), andThree RivalVersions of Moral Enquiry (1990). For all the many ways in which After Virtue might be characterized—as, for example, an essay in philosophical history (in which the history of ideas is conceived as inseparable from the history of practices and institutions), a vindication of a reconstructed Aristotelianism , an anti-Enlightenment polemic, a confrontation with Nietzsche and with the postmodernist thought of which he is the ur-prophet, or a diagnosis of contemporary malaises—it was most essentially concerned with ethical-political analysis, and especially of virtue as the crucial constituent of human flourishing. In its two sequels, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, however, this substantive engagement was largely to give way to analysis of the epistemological presuppositions of moral inquiry (with the historical dimension, to be sure, still to the fore). What motivated this turn was MacIntyre’s acute awareness that the prosecution of his argument in AfterVirtue could do little to attain wider acceptance of his case—that, to the contrary, it was likely, given the positions occupied in contemporary philosophical debate, to leave him “step by step deprived . . . of very nearly all possible argumentative allies.”3 But from this awareness he concluded that the settlement of disputes in moral philosophy must be deferred not indefinitely but only until one of the contending parties has “stood back from their dispute and asked in a systematic way what the appropriate rational procedures are for settling this kind of dispute” (242). It was such systematic meta-investigation of “rational procedures”—a now “imperative . . . task” if progress was to be made in ethics, as he suggested at the end of After Virtue—that he went on to undertake in the two later books. Whatever the gains of...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780268088668
Related ISBN
9780268037376
MARC Record
OCLC
849947046
Pages
544
Launched on MUSE
2013-08-13
Language
English
Open Access
No
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