- Metaphysics, History, and Moral Philosophy: The Centrality of the 1990 Aquinas Lecture to Macintyre’s Argument for Thomism
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 62, Number 3, July 1998
- pp. 419-443
- View Citation
- Additional Information
The Thomist 62 (1998): 419-43 METAPHYSICS, HISTORY, AND MORAL PHILOSOPHY: THE CENTRALITY OF THE 1990 AQUINAS LECTURE TO MACINTYRE'S ARGUMENT FOR THOMISM KENT REAMES Divinity School, University ofChicago Chicago, Illinois LASDAIR MACINTYRE is one of the most important and alked-about contemporary philosophers; his work has pawned, as they say, a cottage industry of thinkers making use of, commenting on, and taking issue with his major theses. In all this it sometimes seems that there has been as much misinterpretation of his work as there has been adequate understanding . Most notable perhaps is the ongoing attempt to cast him as a communitarian, a role he explicitly resists.1 A more subtle indication of the widespread misinterpretation of his thought is the almost complete neglect of his 1990 Aquinas Lecture, First Principles, Final Ends, and Contemporary Philosophical Issues.2 While his Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry,3 published the same year, has provoked a great deal of 1 See, e.g., Arny Gutmann, "Communitarian Critics of Liberalism," Philosophy and Public Affairs 14 (1985): 308-22; Clarke E. Cochran, "The Thin Theory of Community: The Communitarians and Their Critics," Political Studies 3713 (1989): 422-35. For Macintyre's explicit disavowal of the communitarian label, see his "I'm Not a Communitarian, But ...," in The Responsive Community 1/3 (1991): 91-92. I agree with Macintyre that the label "communitarian," applied to his work, obscures more than it reveals. 2 Alasdair Macintyre, First Principles, Final Ends, and Contemporary Philosophical Issues. Aquinas Lecture 54 (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1990); hereinafter FP. Page numbers in parentheses within the text refer to this work. 3 Alasdair Macintyre, Three Rival Versions ofMoral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy and Tradition (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990). 419 420 KENT REAMES commentary, rp has been almost completely ignored.4 This neglect is pa ticularly interesting, and the attempt to revive interest in that lecture important, because FP forwards arguments that take Maclntyre's thought in a very different direction from the way most commentators understand it, and contains implicit responses to some of the most important criticism that has been directed at it. In particular, FP makes clear how Macintyre thinks he can reconcile his historicist account of the work and importance ofThomas Aquinas with the obvious objection that Thomas himself was, among other things, a metaphysician. Perhaps this in itself explains the neglect of FP. Perhaps those who have embraced Macintyre have done so in full expectation that he was on their side against the metaphysicians, while those who have taken issue with him over what they take to be his own rejection of metaphysics have been nonplussed to see him apparently on their side. Perhaps there is general incomprehension about how to reconcile the claims of FP with those of his major works from After Virtue5 to Three RivaJ Versions. Or, perhaps, it is just obvious to everybody but me that there is something dreadfully wrong with FP, that in that lecture Macintyre overlooked something so obvious that everyone has been too embarrassed to comment on it. Whatever the explanation, in this paper I argue: (1) that FP does fit in with the rest of Maclntyre's positive philosophical project which began with AfterVirtue; and (2) that FP plays a vital role in that project, in that without the claims ofFP or something very like them he cannot be a Thomist, so that (3) those readings of Macintyre which take him to be finally in sympathy with the anti-metaphysical tenor of much •A check of the citation index since 1990 turns up precisely three references to FP, none of which shows engagement with Macintyre's major philosophical theses. One, by John Jenkins, "Aquinas on the Veracity of the Intellect," Journal of Philosophy 88/1 (1991): 623-32, contains only a passing reference to Macintyre's reading ofThomas, and says nothing at all about FP's main theses. The other two are interviews with Macintyre, both conducted by Dmitri Nikulin: "True Self-Knowledge through the Understanding of Oneself from the Perspective of Another: An Interview with Alasdair Macintyre," Deutsche Zeitschrift (Ur Philosophie 44/4 (1996): 671-83; and "An Interview with Alasdair Macintyre, A...