(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

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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(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Sources for Further Study

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. 2d ed. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984. The landmark book in which MacIntyre analyzes the decay of modern thought and its inability to provide any unifying framework for reconciling rival views and philosophies.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1990. Focuses on the nature of the conflict between current types of moral inquiry and how to bring them into dialogue.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988. A discussion of the development of Western moral philosophy, focusing on the ways in which different conceptions of justice and rationality interacted.

Murphy, Mark C., ed. Alasdair MacIntyre. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. A helpful collection of essays discussing MacIntyre’s work. Essays include discussions of the relationship between history and philosophy, the significance of tradition, and MacIntyre’s impact on the social sciences, moral philosophy, and political philosophy.

Rowland, Tracey. Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II. New York: Routledge, 2003. Drawing heavily from MacIntyre, attempts to provide a theological analysis of culture and particularly of modern culture.