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419 The Thomist 78 (2014): 419-46 TRADITION-CONSTITUTED INQUIRY AND THE PROBLEM OF TRADITION-INHERENCE PETER SEIPEL Fordham University Bronx, New York ECENT DECADES have seen considerable debate about the theory of rationality Alasdair MacIntyre first proposed as a solution to the famous Kuhn-Popper debate and then later developed in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? as a response to what he calls the “relativist challenge.”1 Yet there is still no scholarly consensus about whether or not MacIntyre’s theory of the rationality of traditions (hereafter Rt) allows him to avoid epistemic relativism (or relativism about rationality or justification).2 One of the central issues of contention among MacIntyre’s interpreters has been how to account for the standpoint from which he advances his theory. Most characterizations of his position—by both friends and foes alike—take Rt to be either relative to the epistemic standards and procedures of the Thomistic tradition to which MacIntyre professes allegiance, or outside of traditions altogether.3 However, as I hope will become clear in what follows, that is not the case. Contrary to the 1 Alasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988), 352. 2 I owe the abbreviation ‘Rt’ to Jennifer Herdt, “Alasdair MacIntyre’s ‘Rationality of Traditions’ and Tradition-Transcendental Standards of Justification,” The Journal of Religion 78 (1998): 535. 3 See for example: Jürgen Habermas, Justification and Application (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993), 100-101; T. H. Irwin, “Tradition and Reason in the History of Ethics,” Social Philosophy & Policy 7 (1989): 55-58; Timothy Mosteller, Relativism in Contemporary American Philosophy (New York: Continuum, 2006), chap. 3. R 420 PETER SEIPEL standard interpretation of Rt, MacIntyre’s theory is neither tradition-dependent nor tradition-independent. Rather, it is what I will call tradition-inherent, since MacIntyre takes it to be “embodied in” and “presupposed by” traditions of inquiry generally.4 Failure on the part of MacIntyre’s interpreters to appreciate this point has tended to obscure a more important issue for his followers. The standard view of Rt has been grist to the mill of many of his would-be defenders who have seen their primary task as one of showing that Rt can be tradition-dependent without thereby being irrelevant to the conflicts between rival and incompatible traditions.5 But the far more pressing task, I want to suggest, is to defend MacIntyre’s attempt to rehabilitate a strong conception of tradition-constituted inquiry.6 By this phrase, I mean inquiry in the context of a substantive tradition that requires, as Jeffrey Stout puts it, “deferential submission to authoritative texts and authoritative interpreters of texts.” 7 Thomism is one example of a tradition in this sense. 4 MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? 354. Herdt also suggests that MacIntyre alludes to a view along these lines in chapter 18 of Whose Justice? Which Rationality? The crucial difference between my interpretation and Herdt’s is that whereas she does not think MacIntyre actually endorses this view, I believe that he does. See Herdt, “Alasdair MacIntyre’s ‘Rationality of Traditions,’” 538. 5 See for example Micah Lott, “Reasonably Traditional: Self-Contradiction and SelfReference in Alasdair MacIntyre’s Account of Tradition-Based Rationality,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 30 (2002): 332ff.; M. Kuna, “MacIntyre on Tradition, Rationality, and Relativism,” Res Publica 11 (2005): 268ff.; and Nancey Murphy, “Postmodern Non-Relativism: Imre Lakatos, Theo Meyering, and Alasdair MacIntyre,” The Philosophical Forum 27 (1995): 47-49. 6 In one sense, this problem is nothing new. Both Jeffrey Stout and J. B. Schneewind, for example, criticize MacIntyre for his suggestion that we depend on traditions to supply us with means for rational deliberation (Jeffrey Stout, “Commitments and Traditions in the Study of Religious Ethics,” Journal of Religious Ethics 25 [1997]: 4952 ; J. B. Schneewind, “MacIntyre and the Indispensability of Tradition,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 51 [1991]: 165-68). Understood as an issue with Rt, however, the problem has been largely overlooked in the scholarly literature. Paul Santilli is perhaps the exception that proves the rule (Paul Santilli, “MacIntyre on Rationality and Tradition,” Lyceum 1 [1989]: 16). 7 Stout, “Commitments and Traditions,” 50. THE PROBLEM OF TRADITION-INHERENCE 421 MacIntyre...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 419-446
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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