. 1
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Alasdair MacIntyre

The contribution to contemporary philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre is incon-
testably enormous. His writings on ethics, political philosophy, the philosophy
of religion, the philosophy of the social sciences, and the history of philosophy
have established him as one of the philosophical giants of the last ¬fty years. His
best-known book, After Virtue (1981), spurred the profound revival of virtue
ethics. Moreover, MacIntyre, unlike so many of his contemporaries, has exerted
a deep in¬‚uence beyond the bounds of academic philosophy.
This volume focuses on the major themes of MacIntyre™s work, with crit-
ical expositions of MacIntyre™s views on the history of philosophy, the role of
tradition in philosophical inquiry, the philosophy of the social sciences, moral
philosophy, political theory, and his critique of the assumptions and institutions
of modernity.
Written by a distinguished roster of philosophers, this volume will have an
unusually wide appeal outside philosophy to students in the social sciences, law,
theology, and political theory.

Mark C. Murphy is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown
Contemporary Philosophy in Focus

Contemporary Philosophy in Focus offers a series of introductory volumes
to many of the dominant philosophical thinkers of the current age. Each vol-
ume consists of newly commissioned essays that cover major contributions of
a preeminent philosopher in a systematic and accessible manner. Comparable
in scope and rationale to the highly successful series Cambridge Companions
to Philosophy, the volumes do not presuppose that readers are already inti-
mately familiar with the details of each philosopher™s work. They thus combine
exposition and critical analysis in a manner that will appeal to both students
of philosophy and professionals as well as students across the humanities and
social sciences.


Stanley Cavell edited by Richard Eldridge
Donald Davidson edited by Kirk Ludwig
Daniel Dennett edited by Andrew Brook and Don Ross
Thomas Kuhn edited by Tom Nickles
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Edited by

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For Jane and Tom Ryan

List of Contributors page xi

Introduction 1
mark c. murphy
1 MacIntyre on History and Philosophy 10
gordon graham
2 Tradition in the Recent Work of Alasdair MacIntyre 38
jean porter
3 MacIntyre in the Province of the Philosophy of the
Social Sciences 70
stephen p. turner
4 Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique 94
j. l. a. garcia
5 MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy 114
david solomon
6 MacIntyre™s Political Philosophy 152
mark c. murphy
7 MacIntyre™s Critique of Modernity 176
terry pinkard

Bibliography 201
Index 221


J. L. A. GARCIA is Professor of Philosophy at Boston College. His work
spans metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics, and he also writes on
philosophical sociology. Among his papers are “Double Effect,” Encyclopedia
of Bioethics, ed. Warren Reich, second edition (1995); “The New Critique
of Anti-Consequentialist Moral Theory,” Philosophical Studies 71 (1993);
“The Tunsollen, the Seinsollen, and the Soseinsollen,” American Philosophical
Quarterly 23 (1986); and “Goods and Evils,” Philosophy and Phenomenological
Research 47 (1987). He is currently at work on The Heart of Racism, a book
of essays.
is Regius Professor of Moral Philosophy at the
University of Aberdeen, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and
editor of the Journal of Scottish Philosophy. He has published extensively
in aesthetics, ethics, applied philosophy, and the philosophy of history. His
most recent books are The Shape of the Past: A Philosophical Approach to History
(1997), Philosophy of the Arts, second edition (2000), Evil and Christian Ethics
(Cambridge University Press, 2001), and Genes: A Philosophical Inquiry
MARK C. MURPHY is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown
University. He writes on ethics, political philosophy, the philosophy of
law, the philosophy of religion, and the moral and political theory of
Thomas Hobbes. He is the author of Natural Law and Practical Rationality
(Cambridge University Press, 2001) and An Essay on Divine Authority
is Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University.
His research interests cover German philosophy as well as political philoso-
phy and the philosophy of law. He is the author of Hegel™s Phenomenology: The
Sociality of Reason (Cambridge University Press, 1994), Hegel: A Biography
(Cambridge University Press, 2000), and German Philosophy 1760“1860:
The Legacy of Idealism (Cambridge University Press, 2002).

xii Contributors

is John A. O™Brien Professor of Theology at the University
of Notre Dame. Working primarily in moral theology, she is the author
of numerous articles as well as of Natural and Divine Law: Reclaiming
the Tradition for Christian Ethics (1999), Moral Action and Christian Ethics
(Cambridge University Press, 1995), and The Recovery of Virtue: The
Relevance of Aquinas for Christian Ethics (1990).
is Associate Professor and H. P. and W. B. White
Director of the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre
Dame. His work focuses on normative and applied ethics. Among his papers
are “Internal Objections to Virtue Ethics,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 13
(1988), and “Moral Realism and the Amoralist,” Midwest Studies in Philosophy
12 (1987). He is currently working on a book on the revival of virtue ethics
in contemporary moral philosophy.
P. is Graduate Research Professor and Chair of
Philosophy at the University of South Florida. He has written extensively on
the philosophy of social science and the history of social science, including
several books on Max Weber. He edited The Cambridge Companion to Weber
and recently coedited, with Paul Roth, the Blackwell Guide to the Philosophy
of Social Science. His most recent books are Brains/Practices/Relativism: Social
Theory after Cognitive Science (2002) and Liberal Democracy 3.0: Civil Society
in an Age of Expertise (2002).
Alasdair MacIntyre

In a 1991 interview, Alasdair MacIntyre summarized the history of his own
philosophical work as follows:

My life as an academic philosopher falls into three parts. The twenty-
two years from 1949, when I became a graduate student of philosophy
at Manchester University, until 1971 were a period, as it now appears
retrospectively, of heterogeneous, badly organized, sometimes fragmented
and often frustrating and messy enquiries, from which nonetheless in the
end I learned a lot. From 1971, shortly after I emigrated to the United
States, until 1977 was an interim period of sometimes painfully self-critical
re¬‚ection. . . . From 1977 onwards I have been engaged in a single project
to which After Virtue [1981], Whose Justice? Which Rationality? [1988], and
Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry [1990] are central. (MacIntyre 1991a,
pp. 268“269)

The seven chapters that follow deal, for the most part,1 with aspects of
MacIntyre™s mature position, the theses that have emerged from the “single
project” “ I will call this, for shorthand, the “After Virtue project” “ to
which After Virtue, Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, Three Rival Versions
of Moral Enquiry, and (since that interview) Dependent Rational Animals
(1999) have contributed. My aim in this Introduction is to provide, albeit
sketchily, some context for the emergence of MacIntyre™s mature view. I
want to say something, that is, about the pre-1971 inquiries that he labels
“fragmented.” It is true that MacIntyre™s writings during this period are
remarkably diverse in the topics treated, in the styles employed, and in the
fora in which they appeared. One does not ¬nd the singleness of purpose
and the coherence of thought that mark his later work. But there is nonethe-
less a set of concerns and commitments exhibited in these writings that
makes intelligible the trajectory of MacIntyre™s work to and beyond After



The direction of MacIntyre™s early work is made intelligible by his search
for an adequate standpoint from which to engage in large-scale social crit-
icism, his conviction that Marxism was the most promising standpoint on
offer, and his view that available formulations of Marxist doctrine were
nonetheless ultimately inadequate to this task.
MacIntyre™s intellectual work has always been at the service of social
criticism. (This is true not only of his early writings, but also of the work
belonging to the After Virtue project. The notion that the MacIntyre of
the After Virtue project is some sort of social and political conservative is
given the lie by the extent to which his later work emphasizes the ways in
which virtue theory and natural law ethics are countercultural and indeed
revolutionary: see, e.g., “Sophrosune: How a Virtue Can Become Socially
Disruptive” [MacIntyre 1988c] and “Natural Law as Subversive: The Case
of Aquinas” [1996a]. See also Knight 1996.) The social criticism to which
MacIntyre aspired, though, was not a piecemeal affair but rather a system-
atic inquiry into the defectiveness of modern social, cultural, economic,
and political institutions. To engage in such systematic critique requires a
standpoint from which to carry out such criticism. MacIntyre shows him-
self in his early work to be preoccupied with major ideologies “ Marxism,
psychoanalysis, and Christianity are at the center of his focus “ that claim
to be able to diagnose the ills of modernity and to point the way to a cure.
“Ideology” is employed by many writers in a merely pejorative fash-
ion. (This is no doubt in part a manifestation of the conviction that
we have moved beyond the need for ideology “ a conviction which, as
MacIntyre has argued, seems all too clearly to be itself an ideology; see
MacIntyre 1971b, p. 5.) But ideologies as MacIntyre understood them of-
fer the promise of affording a standpoint for large-scale social criticism.
Ideologies, MacIntyre wrote, have three central features. First, they ascribe
properties to the world beyond simply those knowable by empirical in-
vestigation. Second, they concern both fact and value, offering an account
both of the way the world is and how it ought to be; they offer a particular
picture of the relationship between these factual and evaluative domains.
And third, ideologies make themselves manifest in such a way that they
de¬ne the social lives of their adherents (MacIntyre 1971a, pp. 5“7).2 It is
true that ideologies can isolate themselves from philosophical and socio-
logical challenge so that they become barren, contentless. But in offering
a systematic picture of the world, one that can unite the factual and eval-
uative realms and can be entrenched in the social lives of its adherents, an

adequate ideology is in the vicinity of what one who seeks to engage in
wholesale social criticism should be looking for.
The standpoint in terms of which MacIntyre™s early work is articulated
is a Marxist one. He was at one time a member of the Communist Party
(though he left the Party prior to Khruschev™s revelations about the moral
horrors of the Stalinist regime) and continued to be active in socialist causes
(Knight 1998, p. 2). But MacIntyre™s commitment to Marxism coexisted
with deep uneasiness about its ultimate adequacy. Marxism, MacIntyre
wrote, has been refuted a number of times; its staying power can be due only
to its capacity to articulate truths that are not articulable in other ideological
frameworks (Marxism and Christianity, pp. 117“118). What MacIntyre had
in mind, I take it, was Marxism™s account of the distorting effects on hu-
man life and human relationships produced by the economic and political
institutions of modern capitalism:

When man as a worker becomes himself a commodity, he is fundamentally
alienated, estranged from himself. Under the form of labour, man sees him-
self as a commodity, as an object. Hence as labour he objecti¬es, externalises
his own existence. A consequence of this is that life becomes not something
which he enjoys as part of his essential humanity. . . .
[T]o be human is to be estranged. But when man is a being divided
against himself, able to envision himself as a commodity, he breaks the
community of man with man. (Marxism: An Interpretation, p. 50)

It is because MacIntyre took Marxism to be fundamentally right on these
points that he had an allegiance to that viewpoint. In fact, MacIntyre™s
allegiance to this view of the destructive character of the institutions of
capitalism, including the modern bureaucratic state, has remained entirely
unaltered to the present day; it is, MacIntyre has acknowledged, one of
the few points on which he has not held different views at different points
in his academic career (see MacIntyre 1994b, pp. 35, 44). Still, MacIntyre
was unable to ally himself with any of the formulations of Marxist thought
available to him: neither Stalinist “scienti¬c socialism” nor the humanist al-
ternatives to Stalinism popular within the British New Left were ultimately
The facing of a choice between these understandings of Marxism was
not, by any means, an unfamiliar experience for Marxists. Marxists had faced
such a stark choice at least since the formulations of scienti¬c Marxism by
Karl Kautsky and of revisionist, humanistic Marxism by Eduard Bernstein
(see Kautsky 1906 [1914] and Bernstein 1899 [1993]; for a helpful dis-
cussion of these views, see Hudelson 1990, pp. 3“28). Scienti¬c Marxism

emphasizes the notion of Marxism as social science, as articulating laws
of social, political, and economic development and transformation that in-
dicate the inevitable path through capitalism and eventually to socialism.
Humanistic Marxism, on the other hand, emphasizes the moral element
of Marxism, offering a critical account of the moral failures of capitalist
society, of the morally imperative character of socialism, and of the morally
appropriate means to transform capitalist modes of life into socialist modes
of life. Scienti¬c Marxism, one might say, is the Marxism of ˜is™; humanistic
Marxism is the Marxism of ˜ought™.
MacIntyre™s early writings take both of these modes of Marxist theoriz-
ing as targets. Understood as an inevitabilist account of the development
of social forms, scienti¬c Marxism faces, on MacIntyre™s view, two insu-
perable dif¬culties. First, to take the content of Marxism to be simply a
set of social scienti¬c laws is to make Marxism into no more than a tool
for those in power to manipulate social change, an instruction manual for
how the masses can be manipulated by those in power. It is precisely this
understanding of Marxism that is central to Stalinist socialism, in which
the state™s role was one of adjusting the levers and pushing the buttons that
could ultimately bring about universal socialism. Because that perspective
was entirely value-free, there were no ways of adjusting the levers and push-
ing the buttons that could be morally called into question. If there were no
more to Marxism than an account of correlations between historical, social,
economic, and political states of affairs, then purges, mass killings, and show
trials “ if employed as a part of those conditions that ultimately bring about
universal socialism “ could not be criticized from a Marxist standpoint.
Thus one fundamental criticism leveled by MacIntyre against the scienti¬c
Marxist standpoint was that it was morally empty (MacIntyre 1958, p. 32).
The other criticism leveled by MacIntyre against this standpoint was that
it was, to put it bluntly, false: there are no social scienti¬c laws available to
be discovered that would enable the would-be central planner to adjust the
levers to bring about the downfall of capitalism and the rise of socialism.
Features of human agency preclude the possibility of adequately formulat-
ing any such laws (see Marxism and Christianity, pp. 82“86; After Virtue,
pp. 88“102). Scienti¬c Marxism is not only morally empty, it is scienti¬cally
It is not surprising, then, that MacIntyre would express admiration for
those Marxists who rejected Stalinist socialism on moral grounds. One
might also expect MacIntyre to side with the humanistic Marxists; indeed,
one recent chronicler of the development of MacIntyre™s views has asserted
that MacIntyre is clearly in this camp (McMylor 1994, p. 12). But while it

is true that MacIntyre™s commitment to Marxism came on account of its
capacity to bring into the open the deformities in social relations prevalent
in capitalist societies, even early on MacIntyre expressed little con¬dence
that a standpoint could be found from which Stalinist horrors could be
criticized and the moral content of Marxism vindicated. Bernstein, writing
at the end of the nineteenth century, shows no signs of worry concerning
the vindication of the moral content of Marxism; perhaps this is because
of his con¬dence in a generally Kantian philosophical view that persons
are never to be treated as mere means but always as ends-in-themselves.
MacIntyre, writing in the mid-twentieth century, has no such con¬dence.
It is not at all surprising that MacIntyre would lack con¬dence on
this score. In the 1950™s, the dominant theoretical viewpoints in Anglo-
American moral philosophy were versions of emotivism and prescriptivism,
according to which moral judgment consists simply in (respectively) ex-
pression of emotion (e.g., “rigged trials are wrong” means something like
“rigged trials “ boo!”) or articulation of preference (e.g., “rigged trials are
wrong” means something like “let rigged trials not take place”). What
MacIntyre cannot see is how, given these understandings of moral judg-
ment, we are to account for the authority purported in moral approval and
condemnation. When the humanist Marxist condemns the techniques of
Stalinist socialism, what is the authority wielded in that condemnation? If
all that is going on in such criticism is the critic™s reaf¬rmation of his or
her disapproval of the Stalinist™s techniques, why on earth should anyone
listen to him or her? (Marxism and Christianity, pp. 124“127; see also After
Virtue, p. 68.) The moral critic of Stalinism, wrote MacIntyre, is “often a
¬gure of genuine pathos” (MacIntyre 1958, p. 31). MacIntyre in his early
work is just such a ¬gure.


MacIntyre confronted the Stalinist and the Stalinist™s moral critic, the
humanist, in a two-part essay written for the New Reasoner4 in 1958 entitled
“Notes from the Moral Wilderness.” In it he diagnoses the dif¬culties in the
humanist™s position as rooted in the humanist™s acceptance of the autonomy
of moral principle, that is, that the province of the moral stands indepen-
dently of and in contrast to the province of natural, social, and historical
facts. By cutting the domain of moral judgment off from the domains of his-
tory, sociology, economics, and anthropology, the moral critic of Stalinism
cuts him- or herself off from any argumentative route to his or her moral

conclusions (see also Marxism and Christianity, p. 124). All that remains is
arbitrary choice “ I approve of these values, I prefer this way of life to that
one. But this isolation renders moral criticism ineffective and moral evalu-
ation unintelligible. Such an understanding of morality allows the Stalinist
to play the choice game as well: “If [the moral critic of Stalinism] chooses
his values in the spirit of Hier steh™ ich, ich kann nicht anders, is it not equally
open to [the Stalinist] to do the same?” (MacIntyre 1958, p. 35) Morality
thus cut off from other realms of judgment and inquiry becomes “like prim-
itive taboos, imperatives which we just happen to utter. It is to turn ˜ought™
into a kind of nervous cough with which we accompany what we hope
will be the more impressive of our pronouncements” (MacIntyre 1959b,
p. 42).5
Both the scienti¬c socialist and the humanist, in their own ways, sever
the connection between the factual and the evaluative, and thus preclude the
possibility of social criticism from an authoritative moral standpoint. The
scienti¬c socialist does so by treating the realm of moral judgment as
illusory or merely epiphenomenal; the humanist does so by stripping it of its
authority. What is needed is a middle way “ a way to connect morality tightly
enough to history, sociology, psychology, and other domains to preclude it
from being a matter of mere preference or choice, but not so tightly that
what ought to be becomes simply what is guaranteed to be. MacIntyre suggests
that this middle way can be achieved by connecting ethics with what we
might call authentic human desire, desire that is not warped or distorted
(MacIntyre 1959b, pp. 46“47). Thus morality is grounded in the ˜is™ of de-
sire, but is not subsumed by it, for he allows that it is authentic desire, not
desire that is deformed, that is the standard for moral judgment. The trick
is to explain what the Marxist critique of capitalist society presupposes: that
we can explain in a non-question-begging way why it is that certain forms
of social life distort desire, and precisely how they do so. What is needed,
MacIntyre writes, is a “concept of human nature, a concept which has to be
the centre of any discussion of moral theory” (MacIntyre 1959b, p. 45). In
providing such an account, we will have to be mindful of the extent to which
human nature is historically conditioned, and we will have to be mindful
that the ethics that we endorse can be institutionalized. As MacIntyre re-
minds us from his very early work onward, there is no morality for rational
beings as such; there is only morality for human beings, as practiced at some
time, in some social setting.
Any adequate ethic, then, would have to be historically situated. But
MacIntyre realized “ in part as a result of an early attempt to write an
adequate history of ethics, his 1966 A Short History of Ethics (MacIntyre

1991d, p. 260) “ that to make the historical condition of human beings a
part of the substance of an ethical view is inadequate. It would be, to say
the least, paradoxical to hold that the norms of conduct, the virtues and
rules that govern the life of a good person, are historically conditioned
and exist only as concretely realized in social life, but also to hold that the
criteria of rational justi¬cation by which we show that this is the correct
view of morality are entirely ahistorical and exist apart from the practices
of any community of inquiry. History, if it is to enter ethics at the level
of substantive moral theory, must also enter at the metalevel, the level at
which substantive theories of morality are justi¬ed. Such appeals to history
characteristically bring with them worries that such a view will fall into a
soggy relativism. It would hardly be a victory for MacIntyre™s alternative
route in moral theory if that route were justi¬ed only according to a theory
of rational inquiry that is itself not superior to any of the various theories
of rational inquiry that might reject that route.
The path out of the moral wilderness is the formulation of an ethics of
human nature “ where human nature is not merely a biological nature but
also an historical and social nature “ and the formulation of an historical,
but not relativistic, account of rationality in inquiry. Only accounts such
as these would make possible authoritative political and social criticism.
The vindication of such a substantive moral outlook, and of a theory of
rationality in inquiry that would sustain that outlook, are the central tasks
of the After Virtue project.6


The conclusions tentatively reached by MacIntyre in his early writings con-
cern both what the substance of an adequate morality would be like and
what a conception of rationality needed to show the superiority of this sub-
stantial morality would have to be like. The chapters in this volume explain
how these tentative conclusions reached in MacIntyre™s early work have
been developed and connected to each other in MacIntyre™s mature posi-
tion. Gordon Graham (“MacIntyre on History and Philosophy”) consid-
ers MacIntyre™s views on the relationship between history and philosophy,
views that culminate in MacIntyre™s notion of a tradition of inquiry. Jean
Porter (“Tradition in the Recent Work of Alasdair MacIntyre”) takes up
this notion of tradition in greater detail, analyzing its development over
the various works that constitute the After Virtue project. Stephen Turner
writes on MacIntyre™s contributions to the philosophy of social science

(“MacIntyre in the Province of the Philosophy of the Social Sciences”),
contributions that inform (and are informed by) MacIntyre™s views on ra-
tionality, morality, and politics. J. L. A. Garcia and David Solomon present a
picture of the negative and positive (respectively) sides of MacIntyre™s sub-
stantive moral theory: Garcia™s chapter (“Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy
and MacIntyrean Critique”) lays out MacIntyre™s criticisms of modern
moral philosophy, while Solomon™s (“MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral
Philosophy”) shows how that critique developed into MacIntyre™s own dis-
tinctive version of Aristotelian ethics. I (“MacIntyre™s Political Philosophy”)
discuss MacIntyre™s views on political philosophy, focusing on MacIntyre™s
preoccupation with the modern state. Terry Pinkard (“MacIntyre™s Critique
of Modernity”) concludes the collection by considering MacIntyre™s crit-
icisms of the assumptions and institutions of modernity, trying to make
clear the ways in which MacIntyre is, and is not, himself a modern. A
selected bibliography of MacIntyre™s books and most important papers


1. The exception is Chapter 3, which deals with MacIntyre™s views on the philosophy
of social science. While MacIntyre has continued to write in this area, his main
positions were developed along the way to, and play a central role in, After
2. It seems to me that the notion of “tradition,” which plays such a central role in
the After Virtue project (see Chapter 2), is a recognizable successor concept to
3. For a discussion of the extent to which the British New Left had its origins in
Khruschev™s revelations concerning the horrors of the Stalin regime, see Chun
1993, pp. 1“4.
4. The New Reasoner was an independent journal of socialist thought, founded
by E. P. Thompson “ an ex-Communist party member “ in order to provide
a forum in which more adequate debate and criticism of socialist principles and
policy could take place. It was published from 1957 to 1959, at which point it
merged with another journal, Universities and Left Review, to form the New Left
5. The comparison of the institutions of morality to the institutions of taboo is a
theme to which MacIntyre has returned over and over again in his career: see, for
examples, the 1981 After Virtue, pp. 110“113, and the 1990 Three Rival Versions,
pp. 182“186.
6. It is worth reemphasizing that in carrying this inquiry forward, MacIntyre did not
take himself to be introducing elements into Marxism that were entirely foreign to
it, but rather to be working through the problematic internal to Marxism. In criti-
cizing contemporary Marxist philosophy on account of its intellectual stagnation,

MacIntyre lays out what he takes to be the central tasks facing philosophers who
have allegiance to a Marxist viewpoint:
Marx was intimately concerned with two problems that necessarily arise
for everyone who engages seriously in philosophy. He was concerned
with the perspective of ultimate belief, with the problems which engage
the philosophy of religion; and he was concerned with the question of how
the philosopher should relate himself to his philosophy and the sense in
which philosophy can or cannot affect one™s ultimate views and commit-
ments. (MacIntyre 1956, p. 370)
While the bulk of MacIntyre™s work early in his career is concerned with rival ide-
ologies, and in particular their relevance for social criticism, he also did a fair bit
of work squarely in the philosophy of religion: he co-edited (with Antony Flew)
New Essays in Philosophical Theology and wrote papers on immortality (1955c),
visions (1955d), the logical status of religious belief (1957b), atheism (Atheism,
pp. 1“55), and other topics in the philosophy of religion. This book does not
contain a chapter on MacIntyre™s philosophical theology because it has not been
a focus of much of his work during the After Virtue project. (But see 1986c and
1 MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

In An Autobiography, R. G. Collingwood writes:

The Oxford philosophical tradition insisted upon a ¬ne training in philo-
sophical scholarship. Under the reign of ˜realism™ this tradition certainly
survived but it weakened year by year. When I myself examined in the mid-
dle 1920™s I found that very few candidates showed any ¬rst hand knowledge
of any authors about whom they wrote. . . . This decline in philosophical
history was openly encouraged by the ˜realists™; it was one of their most
respected leaders who, expressly on the ground that the ˜history™ of phi-
losophy was a subject without philosophical interest, procured the abo-
lition of the paper so entitled in the school of Philosophy, Politics and
During the war . . . I set myself to reconsider this ˜realist™ attitude
towards the history of philosophy. Was it really true, I asked myself, that the
problems of philosophy were, even in the loosest sense of that word, eter-
nal? Was it really true that different philosophies were different attempts
to answer the same questions? I soon discovered that it was not true; it was
merely a vulgar error, consequent on a kind of historical myopia which,
deceived by super¬cial resemblances, failed to detect profound differences.
(Collingwood 1938, pp. 60“61)

For Collingwood to convince those locked in this historical myopia other-
wise, however, was not an easy matter, because of the readiness with which
they argued in a circle.

It was like having a nightmare about a man who got it into his head that
trireme was the Greek for ˜steamer™, and when it was pointed out to him
that descriptions of triremes in Greek writers were at any rate not very good
descriptions of steamers, replied triumphantly, ˜That is just what I say. These
Greek philosophers (or, ˜these modern philosophers™, according to which
side he was on in the good old controversy between the Ancients and the
Moderns) ˜were terribly muddle-headed, and their theory of steamers is all
wrong™. (Collingwood 1938, p. 64)

MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

Almost exactly the same charge that Collingwood here levels against
the Oxford realists of the 1920s and 1930s was repeated forty years later
by Alasdair MacIntyre, and also against Oxford philosophy, this time in its
linguistic rather than its realist incarnation. The opening of MacIntyre™s
A Short History of Ethics (1966) is strikingly similar in sentiment to

Moral philosophy is often written as though the history of the subject were
only of secondary and incidental importance. This attitude seems to be the
outcome of a belief that moral concepts can be examined and understood
apart from their history. Some philosophers have even written as if moral
concepts were a timeless, limited, unchanging, determinate species of con-
cept, necessarily having the same features throughout their history, so that
there is a part of language waiting to be philosophically investigated which
deserves the title “the language of morals” (with a de¬nite article and a sin-
gular noun). . . . In fact, of course, moral concepts change . . . and it would
be a fatal mistake to write as if, in the history of moral philosophy, there
had been one single task of analyzing the concept of, for example, justice, to
the performance of which Plato, Hobbes, and Bentham all set themselves.
(Short History, pp. 1“2)

MacIntyre himself notes (in After Virtue) that the relation between
history and philosophy informed his approach to the subject from the

A central theme of much of [my] earlier work (Secularization and Moral
Change, 1967; Against the Self-Images of the Age, 1971) was that we have
to learn from history and anthropology of the variety of moral practices,
beliefs and conceptual schemes. The notion that the moral philosopher
can study the concepts of morality merely by re¬‚ecting, Oxford armchair
style, on what he or she and those around him or her say or do is barren.
(After Virtue, p. ix)

Omitted from the ¬rst of these quotations is an intervening passage of
equal importance:

In fact moral concepts change as social life changes. I deliberately do not
write “because social life changes” for this might suggest that social life is
one thing, morality another, and that there is merely an external, contingent
causal relation between them. This is obviously false. Moral concepts are
embodied in and are partially constitutive of forms of social life. (Short
History, p. 1)

No less important, for my purposes, is a subsequent remark:

The complexity [of the relationship between social life and moral concepts]
is increased because philosophical inquiry itself plays a part in changing
moral concepts. It is not that we have a straightforward history of moral
concepts and then a separate and secondary history of philosophical com-
ment. For to analyze a concept philosophically may often be to assist in its
transformation. . . . The moral concepts which are available for analysis to
the philosophers of one age may sometimes be what they are partly because
of the discussions by philosophers of a previous age. [Moreover,] A history
which takes this point seriously, which is concerned with the role of philos-
ophy in relation to actual conduct, cannot be philosophically neutral. (Short
History, pp. 2“3)

These quotations make plain that, as one commentator remarks,
“[o]vercoming the double barrenness of detached philosophy and mind-
less history has been an . . . aim promoted by MacIntyre throughout his
career” (Wokler 1994, p. 168). Yet, as it seems to me, it is not altogether
clear how the historical and the philosophical are interconnected. There
are at least three important, and importantly different, contentions about
the relation between history and philosophy embedded in these remarks.
The ¬rst is that moral philosophy cannot ignore the course of social history
if it is to pursue its own ends satisfactorily. The second is that philosophical
inquiry and the exploration of ideas can affect the way social history goes.
And the third, a rather deeper contention to my mind, is that the adequacy
of philosophical thought is itself a product of history.
There is no doubt that together these three contentions provide both the
foundation and the distinguishing mark of a philosophical program pursued
with remarkable consistency over four decades or more. The question is
how, and whether, they can be made to cohere. In this essay I propose to
explore each of these three contentions as they are elaborated by MacIntyre
in his major works, concluding with a brief discussion of the new turn his
thought has taken in his most recent book, Dependent Rational Animals.
At the outset, though, it is important to add two caveats. First, such
a relatively simple scheme of analysis is unlikely to do full justice to the
rich complexity of his thought and writing; second, my concern is not to
pass judgment on the success or failure of MacIntyre™s whole project, but
merely to examine the conceptual relations between the historical and the
philosophical that it may be taken to imply.
An important illustration of the ¬rst of these contentions “ that moral
philosophy cannot ignore the course of social history if it is to pursue its
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

own ends satisfactorily “ is to be found in the “disquieting suggestion” with
which After Virtue opens. The second “ that philosophical inquiry and the
exploration of ideas can affect the trajectory of social history “ makes one
of its most striking appearances in MacIntyre™s account, in Whose Justice?
Which Rationality?, of the place of philosophy in the social order of eigh-
teenth century Scotland. And the third “ that the adequacy of philosoph-
ical thought is itself a product of history “ comes to prominence, as one
might expect, in exploring the relative merits of Three Rival Versions of Moral
Enquiry, and in the defense of the concept of an intellectual tradition that
is to be found there.


After Virtue famously begins with an analogy:

Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe.
A series of environmental disasters are blamed by the general public on the
scientists. Widespread riots occur, laboratories are burnt down, physicists
are lynched, books and instruments are destroyed. Finally a Know-Nothing
political movement takes power and successfully abolishes science teach-
ing in schools and universities, imprisoning and executing the remaining
scientists. Later still there is a reaction against this destructive movement
and enlightened people seek to revive science, although they have largely
forgotten what it was. But all that they possess are fragments: a knowledge
of the experiments detached from any knowledge of the theoretical context
which gave them signi¬cance. . . . None the less all these fragments are re-
embodied in a set of practices which go under the revived names of physics,
chemistry and biology. Adults argue with each other about the respective
merits of relativity theory and phlogiston theory, although they possess only
a very partial knowledge of each. Children learn by heart the surviving por-
tions of the periodic table and recite as incantations some of the theorems
of Euclid. Nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is
not natural science in any proper sense at all. For everything that they do
and say conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those
contexts which would be needed to make sense of what they are doing have
been lost, perhaps irretrievably.
In such a culture men would use expressions such as ˜neutrino™, ˜mass™,
˜speci¬c gravity™, ˜atomic weight™ in systematic and often interrelated ways
which would resemble in lesser or greater degrees the ways in which such
expressions had been used in earlier times before scienti¬c knowledge had

been so largely lost. But many of the beliefs presupposed by the use of these
expressions would have been lost and there would appear to be an element
of arbitrariness and even of choice in their application which would appear
very surprising to us. . . . Subjectivist theories of science would abound and
would be criticized by those who held that the notion of truth embodied in
what they took to be science was incompatible with subjectivism.
This imaginary world [w]e may describe . . . as a world in which the
language of natural science . . . continues to be used but is in a grave state
of disorder. We may notice that if in this imaginary world analytical phi-
losophy were to ¬‚ourish, it would never reveal the fact of this disorder. For
the techniques of analytical philosophy are essentially descriptive of the
language of the present. . . .
Nor again would phenomenology or existentialism be able to discern
anything wrong. . . . A Husserl or a Merleau-Ponty would be as deceived as
a Strawson or a Quine.
What is the point of constructing this imaginary world inhabited by
¬ctitious pseudo-scientists and real, genuine philosophy? The hypothesis I
wish to advance is that in the actual world which we inhabit the language of
morality is in the same state of grave disorder. . . . What we possess, if this
view is true, are the fragments of a conceptual scheme. . . . We possess indeed
the simulacra of morality, we continue to use many of the key expressions.
But we have “ very largely, if not entirely “ lost our comprehension, both
theoretical and practical, of morality. (After Virtue, pp. 1“2)

Science, of course, is not in this condition; there has been no catastro-
phe of this sort in its history. But morality is. What we think of as ˜morality™
today is no more than the dislocated remains of a once coherent and so-
cially embedded set of practices. According to MacIntyre, the resulting
character rather than the originating cause of this moral fragmentation is
moral individualism “ the ascription of complete moral autonomy to the
mind and/or conscience of the individual, and the relegation of the prop-
erly political to the social coordination of felt desires (what economists call
“preferences”) and the con¬‚icting opinions of self-contained individuals.
So deep is its impoverishment that liberal individualism goes as far
as to make a positive virtue out of this conception of moral and political
life. In other words, it represents individual autonomy and the politics of
public choice as the consummation of humankind™s search for freedom and
enlightenment. But in fact, or so MacIntyre contends, the reality is that such
autonomy amounts to a moral vacuum, a condition in which the legislative
sovereignty of individual moral agents means that the crucial distinction
between “good” and “believed to be good” disappears. In this way modern
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

“morality” is deprived of any rational foundation, as knowledge would be
if there were no distinction between “true” and “believed to be true.” In
short, there is nothing upon which our beliefs about “the good” can be
based. The whole system of ideas rests upon a radical distinction between
“fact” and “value” whose implication is that, in contrast to the realm of
real “facts” and rational “means,” there is nothing to temper the wildest
¬‚ights of the moral imagination. Indeed, precisely because this is so, the
“democratized self has no necessary social content and no necessary social
identity, [and] can then be anything, can assume any role or take any point
of view, because it is in and for itself nothing” (After Virtue, p. 32).
However, and more important yet for present purposes, despite its
vacuity modern “morality” is not without its articulation, its accompanying
philosophy. One version of this is to be found in the existentialism of Sartre,
another in the sociology of Erving Goffman. But both are, upon analysis,
essentially varieties of emotivism. It is in the widespread contemporary
subscription to emotivism “ “the doctrine that all evaluative judgments
are nothing but expressions of preferences, expressions of attitude or
feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character” (After Virtue,
pp. 11“12) “ that we ¬nd the distillation of our modern malaise. According
to emotivism the function of moral terms is not to describe the things and
people they are employed to evaluate, but rather to express and evince
the subjective feelings of approval and disapproval that are prompted by
those things. On this account moral judgments are criterionless; any one
is as good (or as bad) as any other. But if so, then the much vaunted moral
freedom of the individual is not so much freedom as emptiness; in the
language of John Locke, license has replaced liberty. Since we can assert
and af¬rm what we will, there is no point in asserting this rather than that,
and hence no point in asserting anything at all.
One further feature of emotivism must be recorded before its peculiar,
and defective, character is properly understood.

A moral philosophy “ and emotivism is no exception “ characteristically
presupposes a sociology. For every moral philosophy offers explicitly or
implicitly at least a partial conceptual analysis of the relationship of an
agent to his or her reasons, motives, intentions and actions, and in so doing
generally presupposes some claim that these concepts are embodied or at
least can be in the real social world. . . . Thus it would generally be a decisive
refutation of a moral philosophy to show that moral agency on its own
account of the matter could never be socially embodied; and it also follows
that we have not yet fully understood the claims of any moral philosophy

until we have spelled out what its social embodiment would be. . . . [B]ut
at least since Moore the dominant narrow conception of moral philosophy
has ensured that the moral philosophers could ignore this task; as notably
do the philosophical proponents of emotivism. (After Virtue, p. 23)

In brief, modern morality is a fragmentary residue of the moral world
that preceded it, and if it appears to accord with, even be endorsed by, philo-
sophical emotivism, this is only because emotivism has singularly failed to
seek, let alone engage with, the historical-cum-sociological understanding
that any adequate moral philosophy requires.
This is, I think, a reasonably accurate account of the picture MacIntyre
paints in the ¬rst three chapters of After Virtue. Yet, as I shall suggest, it is
one not wholly in accord with what follows in the remainder of the book.
Understanding the element of dissonance, in fact, gives us an important
insight into the real relation that MacIntyre sees between history and phi-
losophy, and reveals the internal dialectic that continues to work itself out
in subsequent volumes.
Let us return to the analogy with science. The imaginary hypothesis
is that at some point in the past a social and political catastrophe befell
the activity of science, such that those who later attempted to recover the
elements of scienti¬c understanding were destined to fail, and at the same
time were unable to know of their failure. The new generation of would-
be scientists is in “a world in which the language of natural science . . .
continues to be used but is in a grave state of disorder.” Furthermore, “if in
this imaginary world analytical philosophy were to ¬‚ourish, it would never
reveal the fact of this disorder. For the techniques of analytical philosophy
are essentially descriptive of the language of the present.”
This imaginary story of the state of science is unquestionably com-
pelling, but it is not altogether easy to see how the analogy is to be applied
to contemporary morality. Nor is it easy to see quite how it ¬ts with what
MacIntyre says about emotivism. To begin with we may reasonably ask:
What are the moral equivalents of widespread riots, factories being burned
down, books destroyed, physicists lynched? What is the counterpart to the
Know-Nothing political movement? And when did all this happen? And
If MacIntyre is right, the present state of morality and the present state
of moral philosophy can only be understood by an appeal to history. He
has much more to say about this history, a topic to be returned to shortly.
But in subsequent pages he records no social and political episodes of the
type that mark his imaginary history of science and that have hitherto gone
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

unnoticed. Of course, it is only an analogy, but the observation of this
dissimilarity, as it seems to me, is not altogether idle. Are we to suppose
that there has been a moral catastrophe of equally striking proportions, or
not? And if there has been, by what events has it been marked? However, for
present purposes the importance of making this observation lies rather in
its highlighting of this fact: MacIntyre™s general conception is one in which
historical investigation uncovers philosophical inadequacy; the scienti¬c
analogy for its part suggests that the history in question is, so to speak,
a material one, one of riots, lynchings, political movements and so on.
Indeed, on the strength of this analogy, it would not be wholly mistaken, but
indeed quite understandable, to construe MacIntyre™s account of emotivism
and (following the last quotation) analytical philosophy more broadly as
something like the Marxist account of ideology: Such philosophy re¬‚ects
and con¬rms the self-images of the age, but cannot reveal their de¬ciencies,
however critical its own self-image may be.

The derivation of political, juridical and ideological notions . . . is a process
accomplished by the so-called thinker consciously indeed, but with a false
consciousness. The real motive forces impelling him remain unknown to
him, otherwise it simply would not be an ideological process. (Marx and
Engels 1968, p. 690)

So writes Marx™s collaborator Friedrich Engels, and underlying his ac-
count of ideology is an unquestionably materialist conception of history.
The Communist Manifesto (authored by both Marx and Engels), commenting
on the idea that the intellectual activities of the philosophes were an important
contributory factor in the French revolution of 1789, says:

German philosophers, would-be philosophers, and beaux esprit, eagerly
seized on this literature, only forgetting that when these writings immi-
grated from France into Germany, French social conditions had not im-
migrated along with them. In contact with German social conditions, this
French literature lost all its immediate practical signi¬cance, and assumed
a purely literary aspect. (Marx and Engels 1968, p. 56)

An alternative to this materialist explanation is to be found in the ide-
alist one, which explains social and political conditions, their rise and fall,
success and failure, in terms of the ideas that they embody. One expo-
nent of such a contention is Michael Oakeshott, a philosopher who shares
many of Collingwood™s sympathies and is generally regarded as perhaps the
last of the British Idealists. Oakeshott, in sharp contrast to Marx and Engels™
materialism, explains our contemporary moral and political culture as the

outcome of an erroneous, and hence destructive, philosophy, a philosophy
he calls rationalism.

Moral ideals are a sediment; they have the signi¬cance they do only so
long as they are suspended in a religious or social tradition, so long as they
belong to a religious or social life. The predicament of our time is that the
Rationalists have been at work so long on their project of drawing off the
liquid in which our moral ideals were suspended (and pouring it away as
worthless) that we are left only with the dry and gritty residue which chokes
us as we try to take it down. (Oakeshott 1962, p. 36)

The ¬rst of these sentences expresses a view strikingly like MacIntyre™s,
but the explanation of our “predicament” that follows clearly lays the blame
at the feet of a philosophy, the philosophy of rationalism. So too we might
think MacIntyre™s thesis idealist. In support of this interpretation it can
be noted, ¬rst, that several remarks in After Virtue seem to suggest that
it is the widespread belief in emotivism which has generated much of the
dif¬culty. This is because the “characters” that populate our modern drama,
and which together make up the social possibilities around which our lives
are structured, are the moral representatives of our culture. More than that,
they are said to be the social embodiment of “moral and metaphysical ideas
and theories” (After Virtue, p. 28), of which emotivism is chief. Secondly,
what follows the “disquieting suggestion” and the analysis of emotivism
is not material history so much as the history of ideas, and the history of
philosophy in particular.
How can this be? Why is it not, as the analogy would suggest, a history of
riots and lynchings? In large part the answer is that the materialist/idealist
distinction is just the sort of dichotomy that MacIntyre aims to overcome
with his fusion of history and philosophy. Chapter 4 of After Virtue begins:
“What I am going to suggest is that the key episodes in the social history
which transformed, fragmented and, if my extreme view is correct, largely
displaced morality . . . were episodes in the history of philosophy” (After
Virtue, p. 37).
Immediately a question arises: are we to suppose that philosophy has
determined the course of social history? MacIntyre is alive to, and addresses,
the problem at once. Chapter 4 continues:

[H]ow can this be so? In our own culture academic philosophy is a highly
marginalized and specialized activity. . . . Professors of philosophy . . . would
¬nd it surprising, and the larger public even more surprising, if it were
suggested, as I am now suggesting, that the roots of some of the problems
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

which now engage the specialized attention of academic philosophers and
the roots of some of the problems central to our everyday social and practical
lives are one and the same. . . . Yet this might become less implausible if the
thesis were cast in historical form. For the claim is that both our general
culture and our academic philosophy are in central part the offspring of a
culture in which philosophy did constitute a central form of social activity.
(After Virtue, p. 37)

The need to show this is evident, to my mind. Anyone who wishes to
establish that the history of philosophy is also a history of social events
must give an account of how the two are interconnected, and the most ob-
vious way of doing so is to show that the activity of philosophizing has at
some point had the sort of social signi¬cance that politics and commerce
are thought to have in the contemporary world. Can this be done? This
brings us to the second of the three contentions I identi¬ed at the start, that
philosophical inquiry and the exploration of ideas can affect the way social
history goes. In the subsequent chapters of After Virtue we are given ac-
counts of a broad sweep of societies from ancient Athens, through medieval
Christendom, to Enlightenment Europe. But the most focused example of
a society formed and driven by philosophy “ namely eighteenth-century
Scotland “ is to be found in the next book in MacIntyre™s trilogy. It is to
this “test case” that I now turn.


Was philosophy as an activity ever as important within Western European
culture as MacIntyre claims and as his interrelation of history and philos-
ophy requires? If it was, how widespread was this phenomenon? Despite
their evident importance for his thesis, I shall eschew these more general
questions and ask only whether he makes out the case with respect to just
one context and example.
This example, of course, is Scotland in the eighteenth century, the pe-
riod of the Scottish Enlightenment. Robert Wokler has criticized MacIntyre
for ignoring almost completely what appears to be a far more obvious ex-
ample than Scotland, namely the in¬‚uence on public affairs exercised by
the French philosophes. “How is it possible,” he asks, “that Voltaire “ the
godfather of the Enlightenment Project on any plausible interpretation of
its meaning “ is altogether missing from MacIntyre™s cast?” (Wokler 1994,
p. 116). This rhetorical question can be answered, however. For MacIntyre™s

story to work, it is essential not merely that philosophical ideas be in the
social air, so to speak, but also that, in some way or other, philosophical
thought and re¬‚ection be institutionalized. On this point too, Wokler is

MacIntyre appears to subscribe to the view that only holders of public
positions, with socially rooted responsibilities, can exercise any real im-
pact on their followers. But this is surely absurd. To the extent that the
Enlightenment was a critically subversive movement, as MacIntyre por-
trays it, its estrangement from the settled institutions of its day, in France
and elsewhere, enhanced its power. By deliberately excluding a French focus
from his study, MacIntyre offers his readers an account of peripheries with-
out a core. His Enlightenment Project has been shorn of its projectionism.
(Wokler 1994, p. 117)

I shall not explore this objection further, partly because I lack the his-
torical expertise necessary to do so. Suf¬ce it to say, whatever the truth of
Wokler™s contention about philosophy as a socially subversive force, it is
evidently important for MacIntyre™s thesis that there be at least some con-
texts in which philosophy and philosophers enjoyed an established social
role of a certain sort. And it is arguable that with respect to the role of
philosophy within its social institutions, Scotland was striking among the
European nations. An impressive case can be made for asserting that in
the time of Francis Hutcheson, David Hume, Adam Smith, and Thomas
Reid “ in short the period of the Enlightenment “ philosophical inquiry and
education played a distinctive and highly in¬‚uential part in the cultural life
of Scotland. The evidence for this case, evidence by which others besides
MacIntyre have been impressed, is worth rehearsing brie¬‚y.
In the eighteenth century Scotland had ¬ve universities (in contrast to
England™s two), one each in Glasgow, Edinburgh, and St. Andrews, and
two in Aberdeen. All of these followed a common curriculum, thus giv-
ing the country a standard ˜university system™ that was relatively rare else-
where. Broadly, this common curriculum preserved the old medieval course
structure, once common to Europe, in accordance with which the univer-
sities were divided into a “lower” Faculty of Arts and “higher” Faculties
of Divinity, Law, and Medicine. All students ¬rst took a four-year course
in the Faculty of Arts comprising the seven traditional subjects, including
courses in logic and in moral philosophy. After completing the arts course,
some then proceeded to a training in law, medicine, or divinity.
In reality the picture was not homogenous. The arts curriculum seems
to have been fairly uniform, but medical education in Aberdeen and
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

St. Andrews, in contrast to Edinburgh for example, was erratic. While
Edinburgh led the world in anatomy, such that students ¬‚ocked to it from
across Europe, elsewhere in Scotland medical degrees could simply be
purchased. The French revolutionary Marat, for example, who had never
been to Scotland, possessed a degree in medicine from St. Andrews, and
the English public was regularly warned to be on its guard against the
medical graduates of Aberdeen, where, it is relevant to note, one Regius
Professor of Medicine lectured only once in his twenty-two year tenure of
the of¬ce. Something of the same may be said of law: the “higher” Fac-
ulty of Law in Aberdeen did not come into its own until the nineteenth
Nevertheless, by and large it was true of the professional classes, espe-
cially the clergy of the national church, both that they comprised the heart
of the social order and that they had a philosophical education. This was
especially important after the Act of Union of 1707. Thereafter Scotland
had no Parliament, but it continued to have its own distinctive ecclesias-
tical, legal, and educational systems, all of them acting for the most part
in independence of the Parliament in London, and all of them staffed by
university-trained men. In particular, the General Assembly of the Church
of Scotland was a forum for discussion and decision on social, intellectual,
and political matters pertaining to “the Church and Nation of Scotland,”
as the constitutional phrase had it. As a result, it is not implausible to claim,
as MacIntyre does, that this was a society in which philosophy played a
strikingly important role.
What was that role exactly? Whose Justice? Which Rationality? devotes
three chapters to this question, the central one expressly entitled “Philoso-
phy in the Scottish Social Order.” The general picture MacIntyre paints is
this. The academies of Scotland inherited elements of both Aristotelianism
and Augustinianism (in its Calvinist form). Moreover, the legal and social
order had been hugely in¬‚uenced by Viscount Stair™s Institutions (a sub-
ject to be returned to). This background is instructive when we consider
the con¬‚icts that beset not merely the world of ideas, but the ecclesias-
tical and moral world in which Hutcheson (and others) had to teach and
operate. This was a world where the Evangelical party, persuaded of the
preeminence of revealed truth and the corrupted nature of human reason,
was ranged against the Moderates. The task of the Moderates was to show,
not that revealed truth was irrational or irrelevant (as atheism alleged), but
that the important business of sifting truth from error amongst competing
claims to revelation was the proper business of philosophy. And philosophy,
here, should be broadly understood, since the expertise of the philosophers

frequently incorporated a wide sweep of learning from biblical Hebrew to
Newtonian mathematics. MacIntyre quotes with approval the remark of
Colin MacLaurin, one of the premier mathematicians of the day:

[N]atural philosophy may become a sure basis to natural religion, but it is
very preposterous to deduce natural philosophy from any hypothesis, ™tho
invented to make us imagine ourselves possest of a more compleate system
of metaphysics, or contrived perhaps with a view to obviate more easily
some dif¬culties in natural theology. (Quoted in Whose Justice?, p. 250)

In other words, the task of philosophy so conceived is not to displace
or eradicate revealed truth, but to provide its intellectual grounding. The
point is that philosophy, and especially moral philosophy, has to be the
arbiter between competing theological interpretations of Scripture, and
that, given the importance of these questions in the society of the time, this
arbitration assumes an important social role. Thus it was that the Scottish
professors of moral philosophy became principal agents in the outcome of
social events. This also explains how, at least in this case, “key episodes in
the social history . . . were episodes in the history of philosophy.”
There are those who would raise doubts about the historical accuracy
of this story, a very important question if MacIntyre™s fusion of history and
philosophy is to succeed. However, there is an anterior question about the
conceptual relations that such a history, even if accurate, can be taken to
sustain. The point to be stressed is that for this conception to work it is not
enough that philosophers should be shown to have a social role. This in
itself is compatible with a much more contingent relation than that which
MacIntyre™s account requires. The most profoundly materialist philosophy
of history can concede that there have been periods when those designated
philosophers have exercised considerable in¬‚uence, just as there have been
periods when theologians had a marked degree of social pre-eminence, and
as, in our own time perhaps, scientists do. What needs to be shown, rather,
is that philosophy, (or theology, or science), in itself has been socially in¬‚u-
ential. And this means, with respect to any of the three, that some demon-
stration is required that intellectual adequacy is directly correlated with the
continuing success of the social institutions which it underwrites. Corre-
spondingly, we need to be able to demonstrate that intellectual inadequacy
to the condition of the times is the ultimate explanation of social failure.
It seems to me that MacIntyre is stronger on the former relation than on
the latter. He aims to demonstrate, for instance, that Hutcheson™s accounts
of justice and practical reason had strengths that served their time well.
They also had internal, inherent weaknesses that explain the eventual failure
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

of certain social institutions and cultural trends. Perhaps. But there is a
less elevated idea to consider. However elegant and intellectually sophis-
ticated such accounts may have been, it is quite possible that the temper
of the times ¬rst endorsed them with relatively little understanding, and
then cast them aside in prejudice and ignorance. To do so was irrational
of course, if they really did have the intellectual strengths he alleges, but
would have been no less effective for this irrationality. It is, in my view, an
intellectualist prejudice to suppose that only coherent ideas can work, or
endure, in the end. Unreason may be as powerful, sometimes more so, than
Interestingly, much of MacIntyre™s own account of our past both con-
tends for and sustains just this suggestion. In Three Rival Versions he tells us
that his account of

Aquinas™s work as the culmination and integration of the Augustinian and
Aristotelian traditions is not at all how Aquinas was understood by much the
greater part of both his contemporaries and his immediate successors . . .
What defeated Aquinas was the power of the institutionalized curriculum.
Neither theology nor the subordinate artes liberales could in the middle or
late thirteenth century ¬nd room for the Aristotelian system. (Three Rival
Versions, p. 51)

The same sort of “defeat of reason” is instanced in his claim that the failure
of the Enlightenment Project ushered in an era of liberal individualism that,
by his own telling, is both intellectually impoverished and enduring. The
central contention of After Virtue, in fact, is that we have a fragmented and
incoherent conception of morality, which we have nonetheless succeeded
in living with for a considerable period of time. MacIntyre™s own analysis
of the modern malaise, after all, is that the now dominant language of
human rights and individual freedom, which together comprise the most
evident product of this conception, are omnipresent, and form the staple
of contemporary political language.
To acknowledge their dominance and durability, of course, is not to
assert their intellectual adequacy. On the contrary, the most compelling
(if not in the end convincing) aspect of MacIntyre™s analysis is precisely
its implication that we live in an intellectually fractured world. But we do
live in it. If this were not so, his account of post-Enlightenment modernity
would lose most of its interest; if the errors of modernity were idle, their
analysis would not take the powerful form of social criticism.
Now if all this is true, what it implies is that intellectual failure does not,
in and of itself, spell social disintegration; and this in its turn implies that the

explanation of social forms “ their emergence or their continuance “ is not
always to be explained in terms of the philosophical adequacy and inad-
equacy of the ideas that underwrite them. Pace Hegel (and several com-
mentators have found a strongly, if unexplicitly, Hegelian element perme-
ating MacIntyre™s philosophical history) the real is not always rational. Why
should it not have been the case that the intellectually better side was de-
feated by social tendencies of an irrational kind, or even by political force
majeure? We know from the experience of both tyrannies and democra-
cies that reason does not always prevail. Indeed, this seems to be precisely
MacIntyre™s story. Modern liberalism is intellectually ¬‚awed. Yet it persists,
and it is precisely its persistence that generates the modern perplexities with
which he is concerned.
Applying this general thought to the particular case of the Scottish
Enlightenment seems a simple matter. Even if Hutcheson™s account of jus-
tice had been intellectually still more robust than MacIntyre alleges, it might
yet have been swept aside. And so, it seems, he says it was. Hutcheson™s ar-
ticulation and heroic defense of Scottish philosophy, and its role in the
explication of law and theology, could not in the end withstand the acids
of “Hume™s Anglicizing Subversion” (the title of a third important chap-
ter in Whose Justice? Which Rationality?). MacIntyre represents the contest
between the Evangelical and Moderate parties in a way which suggests
(though it does not actually demonstrate) that the former lost because of
its intellectual inadequacy. But in the next part of his story he alleges that
the victory of the Moderates was itself short-lived.
The explanation of both its temporary success and subsequent fail-
ure, however, is an interesting and important topic in its own right. The
Evangelicals were deeply suspicious of human reason; therein lay their
weakness. Hutcheson by contrast was a proponent of reason; therein lay
his strength. But he was not a Rationalist of Platonic stripe. That is to say,
Hutcheson™s thinking, at least on MacIntyre™s interpretation, did not appeal
to an abstract conception of universal Reason, but drew upon a theological
and philosophical tradition of inquiry whose strength lay in its ability to
recognize challenges both from within and from beyond its own concep-
tions. It could thus seek, not merely to address them, but to answer them
by drawing upon its own resources. This gave it a certain resilience. But
more signi¬cantly, it allowed it to deploy reason in the service of personal
and social formation.
It is this notion of a tradition that comes to be of central importance,
not only to this particular episode in the history of ideas, but to MacIntyre™s
whole project. Tradition is a subject that ¬gures ever more prominently in
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

the succeeding volumes of MacIntyre™s work, and especially in Three Rival
Versions of Moral Enquiry.
Once again, there are reasons to doubt the historical accuracy of this
portrayal of Hutcheson. Wokler, for one, questions its veracity.

Hutcheson was to take up his appointment not as a conservative adherent
of a Scottish tradition of higher education but as a critically vigorously
critical reformer. His widely attested popularity as a lecturer in Glasgow,
partly due to his casual style of delivery in English rather than by way of
Latin readings, was even more attributable to the zealotry of his preaching
a joyously uplifting moral philosophy in accordance with benign nature
and providence, that contrasted with the gloomy precepts around original
sin of Augustinian Scholasticism. The Scottish theological tradition which
MacIntyre claims Hutcheson af¬rmed was actually rejected by him. (Wokler
1994, p. 119)

Perhaps, though, there is a deeper story to be told than Wokler here
allows, and certainly the context MacIntyre supplies for his interpreta-
tion of Hutcheson suggests one. We should not single out Augustinian
Scholasticism as the sole or even dominant element in the Scottish intellec-
tual tradition. There were other in¬‚uential strands. It is at this point that
there is occasion to return to Stair™s Institutions of the Law of Scotland (1681).
MacIntyre draws a contrast between the Institutions and the Commentaries
on the Laws of England (1765) by William Blackstone. Though the second
appeared considerably later than the ¬rst, the comparison provides the vital
clue to understanding the later con¬‚ict between Hutcheson and Hume.

What Stair™s Institutions provided was a comprehensive statement of the na-
ture of justice, of law, and of rational and right conduct, which articulated
the presuppositions of what were to be distinctively Scottish attitudes. No
one in the Scottish eighteenth century could engage with these topics with-
out in one way or another confronting Stair™s theoretical and conceptual
scheme, a scheme which expressed in terms of the law of Scotland not only
the legal but the key theological and philosophical doctrines concerning
justice, law, and rational and right conduct. (Whose Justice?, pp. 226“227)
It is instructive to contrast Stair™s method of argument with that which was to
be followed a good deal later in England by Sir William Blackstone. . . . [I]n
in the early sections of the Commentaries . . . Blackstone begins by writing as
if he too is going to deduce the ¬rst principles of the law from theological or
metaphysical doctrine. But he at once declares such an appeal redundant by
declaring of God that “he has been pleased so to contrive the constitution

and frame of humanity, that should we want no other prompter to inquire
after and pursue the rule of right, but only our own self-love, that universal
principle of action . . . he has not perplexed the law of nature with a multitude
of abstracted rules and precepts . . . but has graciously reduced the rule of
obedience to this one paternal precept ˜that man should pursue his own true
and substantial happiness.™ ” (Whose Justice?, pp. 228“229)

The contrast is plain. Whereas Stair seeks a metaphysical basis to law,
rooted in the apprehension of fundamental principles, Blackstone ¬nds a
basis for law in the need to coordinate the pursuit of individual desires
(the same sort of picture we ¬nd in Hobbes, of course). As a result, these
alternative conceptions of law both re¬‚ect and to a degree strengthen the
well-known differences between English and Scots law. While the former
is in a sense empirical, since everything turns on case law and precedent, the
latter is a descendent of Roman or civilian law, in which cases are decided
according to principle and precept.
This difference exists beyond the level of legal theory: it re¬‚ects a wider
philosophical difference about the relation between reason and passion
with respect to action and deliberation. Moreover, it is one that receives
explicit expression in the philosophical debates of the Scottish Enlight-
enment. Whereas Hume, of the Blackstone Anglicizing tendency, asserts
that “morality is more properly felt than judged of” (Treatise III, Pt.1, §ii),
Thomas Reid, the true inheritor of Hutcheson and the Scottish tradition of
philosophy, argues precisely the opposite, that “the excercise of my moral
faculty . . . are acts of judgement, and not feeling” (Essays on the Active Powers
V, VII).
In short, Hutcheson, in the spirit of Stair, retains a sense that the role
of moral philosophy (and hence social theory) is to discover, or perhaps
disclose, rational principles that will form and guide desire. Hume, in the
spirit of Blackstone, sees the task of moral philosophy as that of recording
the operation of the passions, and correspondingly, his political and social
thought is of an instrumental (ultimately utilitarian) kind that accommo-
dates rather than in¬‚uences the passions.
By MacIntyre™s account the difference is of huge signi¬cance, and ush-
ers in, eventually, the emotivist impoverishment of moral language and
thought. If this is indeed an impoverishment, how are we to recover the
ground we have lost? The answer cannot lie with the Enlightenment Project
of universal reason, a project which had to fail. Rather we must articulate,
recapture, and revitalize the idea of an intellectual tradition that Hutcheson
deployed. And here we ¬nd a third version of the integration of history and
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

philosophy that is a recurrent theme in MacIntyre™s work with which this
chapter is concerned.


It is in Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry that the idea of an intellectual
tradition comes to greatest prominence. The rival versions of inquiry con-
trasted are those of the encyclopaedist, the genealogist, and the traditional-
ist. The ¬rst of these is that of the Enlightenment project, still alive and (so
to speak) well in the nineteenth century. This conception of rational inquiry
understands the pursuit of truth and the acquisition of knowledge according
to the model of compiling an encyclopaedia. It is the conception “ embod-
ied, in fact, in the Encyclopaedia Britannica “ that the pursuit of understanding
consists in the timeless, yet progressive accumulation of information. By the
consistent application of methods of a sort that must commend themselves
to any rational inquirer, humankind has gradually amassed more and more
of the truth. Science is uni¬ed; its aim and purpose is the steady expansion
of knowledge. The picture is something like the regular amassing of coins
in a treasury. We are better off the more we have.
The dysanalogy, of course, is that we are not told what to spend them
on. What is the point of knowledge acquisition? In this encyclopaedist con-
ception, science and understanding are on a par with the ¬lling of the train
spotter™s notebook. What is missing is context, a context of aim and purpose.
In short, the encyclopaedist™s conception is ahistorical.
By contrast, the genealogical conception (MacIntyre takes Nietzsche
as its representative protagonist) is acutely aware of historical context, and
sees the timeless accumulation of truth as an impossible ideal. Truth and
understanding are relative to historical period and social purpose. But pre-
cisely because he sets scienti¬c endeavor so ¬rmly in the sphere of social
life, the genealogist comes to see intellectual endeavor as an exercise of
power in defense of interests; its self-professed character as the impartial
pursuit of knowledge is a mask, nothing better, in fact, than an amalgam of
distortion and illusion that moral thinkers, such as Nietzsche, can at best
work to dispel. The genealogist, in other words, subordinates philosophy in
history. Because he sees, rightly, that total historical detachment, or radical
universalism, is impossible, he swings violently in the opposite direction
and concludes that every thought and idea is the creature, and hence the
instrument, of its time, to be used or abused in the power struggles of social
and political history.

Whereas the encyclopaedist is unrealistically ahistorical, the genealo-
gist is an historical relativist. In contrast to both positions there is a third
possibility to be described “ that of the traditionalist. Traditionalists “ those
who self-consciously work within an historical tradition of inquiry “ see the
pursuit of understanding as a matter not merely of acquiring items of knowl-
edge but of pursuing intellectual questions and problems that they have not
invented but inherited. This notion of intellectual inheritance raises the in-
dividual inquirer above the peculiarities of his or her own time, but without
removing the whole enterprise into the impossible realm of the timeless. It
thus implies that “science,” broadly conceived, requires membership in a
tradition “ a movement of thought from and through history. Accordingly,
acceptance of this inheritance implies that a large part of the pursuit of
understanding is exploration of coherent self-understanding, discovering
what we know by grasping who we are.
For the genealogist there is no truth as traditional epistemology under-
stands it; for the encyclopaedist truth is external to the method of inquiry.
On both conceptions it is possible to specify the end of intellectual endeavor
independently of its methods, and possible therefore to ask, irrespective
of the content of those ends, whether the methods are effective. Hume™s
Anglicizing tendency, following the generalized model of Blackstone™s ap-
proach to the law, understands the end to be set by passion and desire, and
accordingly the ef¬cacy of the method to be determined by preference sat-
isfaction. Hence the resultant emotivism, and the subservience of reason
to desire; what point could reason have other than to be the slave of the
MacIntyre has, let us agree, made the inadequacy of this position plain.
But in addition there is something positive to be said for the traditionalist
account that he wishes to endorse in its place: it simply is more accurate
with respect to the realities of intellectual endeavour. In doing philosophy
or science we do not, as a matter of fact, invent the problems or questions we
address. On the contrary, we learn what they are, just as we learn proposed
solutions to them. Those who fail to do so, who simply open the encyclopae-
dia, have neither point nor purpose to guide them, and thus no guard against
the wild and fanciful use of the facts they come to possess. They are deluded
into supposing that they, uniquely and for the ¬rst time, might uncover the
“key to all mythologies” (the fruitless pursuit of Mr. Casaubon in George
Eliot™s Middlemarch). On the other hand, it seems perverse to insist, as the
genealogist does, that there is really no such thing as inquiry at all, and
that those who think there is are the perpetual victims of self-deception
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

and/or manipulation by others. A more accurate description seems to be
that, though inquiry cannot “leap over Rhodes” (to quote Hegel), nor is it
irrevocably at the mercy of contemporaneous powers and passions.
But if for these reasons we do adopt the traditionalist point of view,
then ends and means cannot be speci¬ed independently in the way the
Humean encyclopaedist required because those things we might identify as
the means of achieving the ends at which the tradition aims are necessarily
embedded in states of character which are themselves constitutive of the
ends “ states of character that a large part of education exists to create.
Whereas the Humean deliberator, believing that reason is the slave of the
passions, asks of the educator “tell me what I want to know,” the proper
request is “improve my understanding,” tell me, in other words, what I
ought to want to know.
Accordingly, intelligent inquirers seek, pace the genealogist, to pass be-
yond the immediate and the ephemeral, but they do not expect thereby to
be offered (as the encyclopaedist offers them) an accumulation of “facts”
with which to ¬ll up the vacuity of their minds, or a set of algorithms by
which they may generate more mind-¬lling facts for themselves. Rather,
they seek guidance on how to think, and what to think about. What this
implies is that the central source of legitimation and justi¬cation in a tradi-
tion of inquiry is neither the end result “ truth “ nor principles of inquiry “
Cartesian-type rules for the direction of the mind “ but the authoritative
practitioner, the one who has mastered the tradition.
So far we have been concerned with intellectual inquiry and with rival
conceptions of it. The central point to grasp, however, is that intellectual
inquiry is a practice, and the same possibilities of conception, and the same
points for and against them, can be made with respect to all human practices.
In Three Rival Versions MacIntyre describes the character of the authoritative
practitioner in a way that includes, but is not restricted to, the person who
is a master of philosophy or science.

The authority of a master is both more and other than a matter of exem-
plifying the best standards so far. It is also and most importantly a matter
of knowing how to go further and especially how to direct others towards
going further, using what can be learned from the tradition afforded by the
past to move towards the telos of fully perfected work. It is thus in knowing
how to link past and future that those with authority are able to draw upon
tradition, to interpret and reinterpret it, so that its directedness towards the
telos of that particular craft becomes apparent in new and characteristically

unexpected ways. And it is the ability to teach others how to learn this type
of knowing how that the power of the master within the community of a
craft is legitimated as rational authority. (Three Rival Versions, pp. 65“66)

History is concerned with what has been. Philosophy is a normative inquiry,
concerned with what, rationally, we ought to think and believe. It is now
possible to see how, on this third account of the connection, tradition fuses
historical understanding and normative judgment.

Because at any particular moment the rationality of a craft is justi¬ed by
its history so far, which has made it what it is in that speci¬c time, place,
and set of historical circumstances, such rationality is inseparable from the
tradition through which it was achieved. To share in the rationality of a craft
requires sharing in the contingencies of its history, understanding its story
as one™s own, and ¬nding a place for oneself as a character in the enacted
dramatic narrative which is that story so far. (Three Rival Versions, p. 65)

If we apply this line of thought to moral reasoning, we can readily
see how different it looks once we begin to think in terms of tradition.
Determining the right course of action will not now be a matter of applying
abstract principles of practical rationality (Descartes or Kant), or estimating
likely consequences for happiness (Bentham or Mill), or exposing the forces
which, while masquerading as deliverances of truth and rationality, are really
devices to suppress the exercise of individual will (Nietzsche or Foucault).
Rather, practical reason will be a matter of relying upon the judgments of
those well versed in the moral traditions of speci¬c times and places, and
by emulation coming to be able to make judgments in our turn. We are
accustomed to de¬ning the morally good agent as one who performs right
actions; on this way of thinking, the morally right act is to be de¬ned as
that which would be performed by the good agent.
The Aristotelian character of this line of thought is evident. Yet
MacIntyre has expressly denied that his aim is to restore a “morality of
the virtues” in preference to a “morality of rules.” The difference is to be
found in the last sentence of the passage just quoted, for his account goes
beyond Aristotelianism precisely in its appeal to history. The master of a
tradition, including a tradition of rational moral inquiry, must ¬nd a place
“as a character in the enacted dramatic narrative which is that story so far.”
To do so, obviously, requires a knowledge of what that story is, in short a
knowledge of history.
If this third account of the fusion of history and philosophy is to succeed
two conditions need to be met. First, understanding must be essentially
MacIntyre on History and Philosophy

historical. Second, with respect to philosophy (and moral philosophy in
particular), this historicity must not jeopardize its normative character. Can
these conditions be secured?

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