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C H A P T E R F O U R Alasdair MacIntyre’s Revisionary Aristotelianism Pragmatism Opposed, Marxism Outmoded, Thomism Transformed K E L V I N K N I G H T This essay argues for the significance of Alasdair MacIntyre’s revisions to the tradition of Thomistic Aristotelianism. After contextualizing MacIntyre ’s philosophical development within Aristotelianism’s recent history, it summarizes his account of the moral importance of a teleological conception of goods, identifying a problem for past Aristotelian accounts of extant social order. It then looks more closely at teleology, and especially at Hegel’s identification of good with a singular rationality and actuality of historical progress and social order. MacIntyre’s pluralist account of practices and institutions is explored in the fourth section of the essay, where it is contrasted with Robert Brandom’s recasting of Hegelian claims in linguistic and pragmatist form. I argue that the teleology involved in MacIntyre ’s account of practices is free from the errors of any such Hegelian holism. The next section argues that MacIntyre’s account of institutionalized causes of demoralization transforms Thomistic Aristotelianism into a radical mode of social critique, challenging theoretical justifications of the ethical life of contemporary capitalism. This critique is normatively teleological, not in the modern sense that attributes a goal to history and a functionality to society that is independent of actors’ purposes but rather 83 84 KELVIN KNIGHT in an Aristotelian sense, making explicit the goal directedness of actors’ practical reasoning and allowing that virtuous action constitutes the human good.The error from which MacIntyre thereby saves Aristotelianism is that of identifying the common good with the dominant institutions of contemporary social order. Aristotelianisms From After Virtue onward, Alasdair MacIntyre’s work has advanced a new and compelling account of what Aristotelianism is and ought to be. Previously , Aristotelianism was spoken of in at least four different ways. First, the term was used in the sense given to it by Coleridge and Goethe, to signify an empiricism opposed to Platonic metaphysics. Contrastingly, it referred to Aristotle’s development of Platonic metaphysics and ethics, and to the profound and pervasive influence of this comprehensive philosophy upon people’s way of thinking, both past and present. This second usage was that of both J.L. Stocks and Martin Heidegger. Stocks thought that Aristotelianism might be superseded, but only on the basis of the intellectual progress of which it constitutes an ineliminable part. Much more radically , Heidegger regarded what had come to be understood as Aristotelianism as a metaphysical system that could be rethought and, thereby, replaced. Whereas Stocks sought only to identify “the limits of purpose,” Heidegger wished to deconstruct traditional ways of thinking of human existence and action as means to a final end. Whereas Heidegger and Stocks identified Aristotelianism with the Western tradition, a third usage juxtaposed Aristotelianism to other currents in Western thought. In this sense, Aristotelianism provided a warrant for resisting alike liberal empiricism, Marxist materialism, and Nietzschean perspectivism. Such an understanding of Aristotelianism was developed by Luigi Taparelli d’Azeglio and Vincenzo Gioacchino Pecci (Pope Leo XIII), by Étienne Gilson and Jacques Maritain, by Vincent McNabb and Herbert McCabe, and by many other Catholic philosophers. For them, Aristotle’s greatest follower was St. Thomas Aquinas. The metaphysics of substances and attributes, actuality and potentiality, questioned by Stocks and rejected by Heidegger, was presented by these Thomistic Aristotelians as the basis of the one perennially true philosophy, according to which human action is ultimately directed to the goodness of God. Finally, Aristotelianism—or neo-Aristotelianism—was used by a number of post-Heideggerian thinkers from the 1960s onward to denote a specifically “practical” kind of philosophy. Their common project was, in the famous phrase of Manfred Riedel, “the rehabilitation of practical philosophy .” Joachim Ritter and others took from Aristotle’s Ethics their understanding of praxis or action in terms of ethos and understood ethos as both personal habituation and cultural tradition. Accordingly, ethics was grounded in human temporality and sociality, and therefore in obvious (even if occasionally contested) contrast with the “pure practical reason” of Kantian “critical” philosophy. Indeed, in the texts of its most famous expositor, Hans-Georg Gadamer, this neo-Aristotelian practical philosophy is divorced entirely even from Aristotle’s own theoretical philosophy. Whereas the earlier understandings of Aristotelianism took Aristotle’s corpus as a whole, these interpreters neglected or dismissed his metaphysical naturalism and realism in conceptualizing praxis as entirely distinct from both abstract theorization and...


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