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C H A P T E R F I V E Alasdair MacIntyre Reflections on a Philosophical Identity, Suggestions for a Philosophical Project A R T H U R M A D I G A N , S . J . While drafting this paper I went through a phase of illusion in which I thought I might tell you how Alasdair MacIntyre’s philosophical achievements had changed the climate of English-speaking academic moral philosophy and were beginning to transform the surrounding culture. My eyes were opened, however, as I read his 1992 essay “What Has Not Happened in Moral Philosophy.” There he faults a certain conference program for assuming that “abstract principles are [now] thought to be an inadequate and unreliable guide to action,” that appeal is instead being made to “the concrete experiences that constitute the norms and social understanding of a particular community at a particular time,” and that recognition has been accorded to “the importance of tradition for all questions of judgment and value.” The question which has then been posed to us is: What are the implications of this development for contemporary culture? My problem in answering it is that I do not believe that anything like this change in moral philosophy has in fact occurred.1 122 MacIntyre’s diagnosis remains as accurate today as it was then. More work is being done on the history of moral philosophy. There is more talk about virtues and virtue ethics. But on the whole, moral philosophy is being practiced pretty much as it was practiced before After Virtue appeared on the scene. Yet if I cannot tell you the story of Alasdair MacIntyre’s triumphs, I can at least reflect upon his place within the contemporary Aristotelian and Thomistic traditions and offer some suggestions as to how his philosophical project might be extended. Among the many achievements for which we owe MacIntyre our gratitude are his analyses of the concept of a philosophical tradition, of the rationality of traditions, and of the ways in which traditions may confront one another. In a number of places, such as chapter 18 of Whose Justice? Which Rationality? and the essay “Moral Relativism, Truth and Justification ,” he has formulated his view of how one tradition can in certain circumstances show itself to be clearly superior to a rival tradition.2 Here is his formulation in the 2007 prologue to the third edition of After Virtue. How then, if at all, might the protagonists of one of these traditions hope to defeat the claims of any of its rivals? A necessary first step would be for them to come to understand what it is to think in the terms prescribed by that particular rival tradition, to learn how to think as if one were a convinced adherent of that rival tradition. To do this requires the exercise of a capacity for philosophical imagination that is often lacking. A second step is to identify, from the standpoint of the adherents of that rival tradition, its crucially important unresolved issues and unsolved problems—unresolved and unsolved by the standards of that tradition—which now confront those adherents and to enquire how progress might be made in moving towards their resolution and solution. It is when, in spite of systematic enquiry, issues and problems that are of crucial importance to some tradition remain unresolved and unsolved that a question arises about it, namely, just why it is that progress in this area is no longer being made. Is it perhaps because that tradition lacks the resources to address those issues and solve those problems and is unable to acquire them so long as it remains faithful to its own standard[s] and presuppositions? Is it perhaps that constraints imposed by those standards and deriving from those presuppositions themselves prevent the formulation or reformulation of those issues and problems Alasdair MacIntyre: Reflections on a Philosophical Identity 123 so that they can be adequately addressed and solved? And, if the answer to those two questions is “Yes,” is it perhaps the case that it is only from the standpoint of some rival tradition that this predicament can be understood and from the resources of that same rival tradition that the means of overcoming this predicament can be found? When the adherents of a tradition are able through such acts of imagination and questioning to interrogate some particular rival tradition, it is always possible that they may be able to conclude, indeed that they may be compelled to...


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