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MACINTYRE'S POSTMODERN THOMISM: REFLECTIONS ON THREE RIVAL VERSIONS OF MORAL ENQUIRY THOMAS s. HIBBS Boston College Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts IN A RECENT issue of The Thomist, J. A. DiNoia, O.P., argues that certain themes in post-modern thought provide an occasion for the recovery of neglected features of the Catholic tradition.1 DiNoia focuses on three motifs : first, a " broader conception of rationality," with an emphasis on the " role of tradition and authority," second, attention to the " role of texts and narrative in shaping thought and culture," and, third, the " importance of community in fostering personal identity ." These themes have been prominent in the writings of Alasdair Macintyre. In his latest publication, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, he brings the Augustinian-Thomistic tradition into conversation with its principal rivals, encyclopaedia and genealogy.2 The dialogical character of the work, the text of his Gifford Lectures, affords Macintyre the opportunity to sharpen and develop his views of rationality, of the connection between particularism and universalism, and of the Christian contribution to moral inquiry. What emerges from the series of dialectical encounters is a constructive, postmodern Thomism, one which is not susceptible to the genealogical critique of encyclopaedia and which circumvents the self-destructive tendencies of genealogy. 1 " American Catholic Theology at Century's End: Postconciliar, Postmodern , and Post-Thomistic," The Thomist 54 (1990), pp. 499-518. 2 The seminal text for each of the three rival versions was published in the 1860's: for encyclopaedia, The Ninth Edition of Encyclopaedia Brittanica, for genealogy, Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morals, and for tradition or Thomism, Aeterni Patris. 277 278 THOMAS S. HIBBS According to Macintyre, the terms of the debate over rationality between genealogy and encyclopedia have obscured apprehension of the Thomistic alternative. As they see it, " Either reason is thus impersonal, universal, and disinterested or it is the unwitting representative of particular interests, masking their drive to power by its false pretensions to neutrality and disinterestedness ." But the mutually exclusive way of putting the question conceals a third possibility, the possibility that reason can only move towards being genuinely universal and impersonal insofar as it is neither neutral nor disinterested, that membership in a particular type of moral community, one from which fundamental dissent has to be excluded, is a condition for genuinely rational inquiry.3 The passage introduces the salient features of Macintyre's view of the relationship between particularism and universalism.4 Macintyre develops his view not only in confrontation with genealogy and encyclopaedia, but also out of the Thomistic tradition. In a chapter entitled, "Too Many Thomisms? ", Macintyre describes the history of the revival of Thomism after Aeterni Patris.5 Macintyre criticizes early neo-Thomism for reading Aquinas as a systematic thinker, whose project was fundamentally epistemological. By beginning with ·epistemology, neoThomism distorted Aquinas's texts, cast the terms of the debate between Aquinas and modernity in the distinctively modern language of epistemic justification, and predictably reenacted the futile history of modern philosophy.6 Macintyre observes that there are simply "too many ways to begin." But even early on a Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990), pp. 59-60. Henceforth referred to as TRV. 4 Many critics have misunderstood Maclntyre's insistence on the particularist means to universality. For a careful and sympathetic discussion of this question , see John Doody, " Macintyre and Habermas on Practical Reason,'' American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, LXV (1991), pp. 143-58. s TRV, pp. 58-81. 6 See the quite different understanding of this history in Gerald McCool's From Unity to Pluralism: The Internal Evolution of Thomism (New York: Fordham University Press, 1989) and "Why St. Thomas Stays Alive,'' International Philosophical Quarterly 30 (1990), pp. 275-288. THREE RIVAL VERSIONS OF MORAL ENQUIRY 279 there was an acknowledgement by Kleutgen, among others, of the disparity between pre- and post-Cartesian philosophy. Still, early neo-Thomism failed to see that the break came not with Descartes but with Scotus. Hence, the decidedly unThomistic influence of Scotus upon Suarez-whose authority was crucial in the rehabilitation of Aquinas-was unconsciously incorporated into neo-Thomism.7 The result of early neo-Thomism was an unhappy assimilation...


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