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BENEDICT, THOMAS, OR AUGUSTINE? THE CHARACTER OF MACINTYRE'S NARRATIVE CHRISTOPHER J. THOMPSON University of St. Thomas St. Paul, Minnesota Introduction I N HIS Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry1 Alasdair Macintyre continues (with certain modifications) in a similar trajectory established in two earlier works, After Virtue and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Against postEnlightenment portraits of moral reasoning, he consistently defends a conception of practical rationality which entails the recognition of tradition, authority, and narrative as constitutive components of any rationally determined moral enquiry. Despite the consistent appeal to tradition, there is a significant development within Macintyre's reflections regarding the pre-eminent resources we are to draw upon. At the end of After Virtue we are asked to await a "doubtless very different" St. Benedict. In Whose Justice? Which Rationality? the Thomistic tradition emerges as the superior form of moral enquiry. While Thomism maintains a pre-eminence in Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, I suggest that there is an increasingly Augustinian element emerging within his analysis and that this dimension underlies Macintyre's efforts in ways not previously specified. There is a warrant, then, for seeing within Augustine's efforts the paradigmatic "narrative form of moral enquiry." 1Alasdair Macintyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990). Hereafter RV. 379 380 CHRISTOPHER J. THOMPSON That Augustine figures in Macintyre's reception of the Thomistic tradition is not necessarily striking, for part of what fuels Macintyre's increasing enthusiasm for St. Thomas is precisely the latter's capacity to draw upon the best of the Augustinian tradition of enquiry. Beyond what Macintyre himself has overtly recognized as Augustine's contribution to the thought of St. Thomas, however, I suggest that elements of Augustine's thought directly influence much of Macintyre 's own attempts at restoring a kind of tradition-guided enquiry. This Augustinian strain, moreover, not only serves to highlight features of Macintyre's analysis of Thomism, but also brings to light certain theological presuppositions essential to the kind of moral enquiry Macintyre hopes to retrieve. The character of Macintyre's narrative, then, leads us to St. Augustine. In After Virtue it is largely the Aristotelian tradition of enquiry which he defends against rival post-Enlightenment theories of morality. He argues that the analytic, linguistic, and phenomenological tools brought to bear upon the task of formulating a coherent conception of the moral life and moral enquiry have failed miserably, principally for two reasons. The first is that such contemporary efforts have neglected to realize that moral enquiry is embedded in a broader context of social practices, practices which are inevitably historically conditioned; thus a failure to recognize the historically situated character of moral enquiry distorts that account. The second reason is related to the first in that failure to acknowledge the historical character of such enquiry has resulted in a failure to recognize that much of our contemporary terms and tools of moral analysis are remnants from previous contexts of enquiry which are no longer mutually agreed upon nor recognized as relevant.' What has been lost, among other things, is the teleological metaphysics which serves as the context for nearly two millennia in the West. Uproot the stock of ethical norms from this tradition 2 For this notion of "moral remnants" surviving beyond the historical contexts in which they emerge, see Alasdair Macintyre, "Ought," Chapter 15 in Against the Self Images ofthe Age (New York: Schocken Books, 1971), 136-156, though in a different context and with very different effect. THE CHARACTER OF MACINTYRE 'S NARRATIVE 381 of enquiry and what remains is simply an amalgam of unrelated moral demands-some divinely sanctioned, some rooted in the passions, some the outburst of emotive whimsy-yet all lacking any coherent exposition.' The only hope is to retrieve something of the Aristotelian tradition of moral enquiry in which the notion of the virtues and the virtuous human person entails a conception of the moral life as bearing a narrative unity, a teleologically ordered whole in which one's actions bear an intrinsic unity and significance to the extent they complement one's telos. The narrative unity ascribed to the living of the good life is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 379-407
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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