Through essays written from 1972 to 2002, Alasdair MacIntyre provides an overview of his philosophical project with particular applications of his version of Thomistic philosophy to modern issues. In MacIntyre’s view, the philosophies of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Greek philosopher Aristotle depict philosophical discourse as occurring within the context of a tradition. Thus, philosophy is a craft in that it requires a teacher who can provide an understanding of the principles and purposes (ends) of the craft and yet also allows the student to move beyond the teacher’s understanding of those principles and purposes.
MacIntyre emphasizes that each person exists within the context of a particular tradition or culture. Moreover, a person’s ability to understand others and to be understood is provided by tradition and culture in the form of a dramatic narrative. The dramatic narrative, by providing a background and structure, organizes thought such that it can be rational and comprehensible. It provides the philosopher with particular theses and arguments that circumscribe the scope of possible rational discourse within the tradition. Thus, the dramatic narrative both makes rational inquiry possible and, at the same time, limits the extent of that inquiry.
At times, however, an individual enters into an epistemological crisis because the dramatic narrative is insufficient. This insufficiency can be discovered because of conflicts inherent in the tradition or because of an encounter with rival traditions. This results in a breakdown in the relationship between what seems to be true and what is true. Progress within a particular tradition is characterized by the ability to identify, solve, and explain problems and difficulties within the tradition. If these problems result in a sustained incoherence in the tradition, it becomes more likely that an individual will begin to doubt the sufficiency of the tradition. Having made this realization, the inquirer must either stagnate, defending the deficiencies of his own viewpoint against the attacks of rival viewpoints, or else attempt to engage the imagination to understand a rival view from the standpoint of that rival. To...
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