. 3
( 7)


continuing to take what were considered to be heretical views; in the words
of Bernard, writing in 1140, “one head, a single heresy of his was cut off at
Soissons; but now seven greater ones have grown up in its place” (Clanchy
1997, p. 289). The condemnation of Sens was inconclusive, in part be-
cause Abelard appealed to the judgment of the Pope and then left before
the council had concluded. Subsequently, Abelard appealed to Peter, the
Abbot of Cluny, for protection, thus illustrating on a practical level how
different loci of authority could be played off one another at this time. As it
happened, Pope Innocent II did condemn Abelard, but thanks to Peter™s in-
tervention, the full force of his condemnation appears to have been blunted,

and Abelard was allowed to end his days in peace in a Cluniac priory near
Chalon-sur Saone. It is not clear that Abelard ever did submit to the con-
demnation of Sens, as con¬rmed by Innocent II. In his letter to the Pope,
Peter claimed that Abelard had made peace with Bernard, but we are not
clear exactly what this means. At any rate, there is little evidence that Abelard
ever acknowledged the sin of prideful heresy in himself, as MacIntyre sug-
gests. Clanchy suggests an opposite conclusion: “It cannot be emphasized
too strongly that Abelard approved of the prosecution of heretics as much
as the pope or St. Bernard did. The difference between them was that
Abelard always thought his own opinions were the height of orthodoxy
and his opponents were therefore deluded or malicious” (Clanchy 1997,
p. 319).
I have dwelt at some length on the question of authority in the latest
of MacIntyre™s extended discussions of tradition because his insistence on
the necessity for an authoritative control on tradition-based inquiry raises
fundamental questions for his understanding of rationality as tradition-
based inquiry. Why should authoritative interventions be necessary in or-
der to prevent “the development of dialectical argument from fracturing the
unity of enquiry into a multitude of disagreements” (Three Rival Versions,
p. 91)? Why are the processes of self-correction and ongoing re¬‚ection
outlined in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? not suf¬cient for this purpose?
Even more fundamentally, how does MacIntyre see the relation between
authority and the emergence and resolution of an epistemological crisis?
What is to prevent authoritative prohibitions of dissent from allowing an
epistemological crisis to emerge, or from disallowing the kinds of innova-
tions that MacIntyre claims are necessary to the resolution of that crisis?
MacIntyre™s comparison of Abelard with Galileo highlights the dif¬culties.
On MacIntyre™s view, Abelard takes the proper attitude towards author-
ity, whereas Galileo does not; and yet, as MacIntyre himself goes on to
acknowledge, it is Galileo who is rationally vindicated by subsequent de-
velopments. How can we escape the conclusion that, in this case, authority
functioned to undermine, rather than to promote, rationality? It may well
be that MacIntyre can answer these questions through a more extended
analysis of the warrants and scope of authority within a tradition, but he
has yet to do so.
MacIntyre™s works have enjoyed a deservedly wide in¬‚uence, not only
among his fellow philosophers, but among theologians, social scientists,
and educated men and women generally. It is a mark of the signi¬cance
and richness of his work that it should suggest so many avenues for further
re¬‚ection. It is to be hoped that he will return to some of the issues raised
Tradition in the Recent Work of Alasdair MacIntyre

here in his future works, developing and extending the account of rationality
as tradition-guided inquiry set forth in his recent works.22


1. The moral signi¬cance of the role of the bureaucratic manager is discussed
in After Virtue, pp. 26“27, and the role of the therapist is discussed on
pp. 30“31.
2. Julia Annas makes a similar point in Annas 1989, pp. 388“404. As we will see
below, MacIntyre does remark, in both After Virtue and Whose Justice? Which
Rationality?, that a tradition is an extended argument over the goods that con-
stitute it; but this observation, while suggestive and important, does not seem to
be a de¬nition of “tradition,” particularly since MacIntyre later adds the qual-
i¬cation that participants in a tradition must be aware of themselves as such,
which would presumably not apply to every historically extended dispute over
the nature of the good; see Whose Justice?, p. 326.
3. For MacIntyre™s own overview of his argument, see After Virtue, p. 1“5.
4. These three stages also seem to be recapitulated in the process of individual
acquisition of the virtues, although this is not emphasized in After Virtue; see
MacIntyre 1992b.
5. Similarly, in his next book he asserts that “a tradition is an argument extended
through time in which certain fundamental agreements are de¬ned and rede-
¬ned in terms of two kinds of con¬‚ict,” namely between proponents of the
tradition and its opponents, and internally among those who would interpret
its central tenets in different ways; see Whose Justice?, p. 12.
6. MacIntyre himself offers a good summary and response to the main
lines of criticism in the Postscript to the second edition of After Virtue,
pp. 264“278. For a particularly valuable set of re¬‚ections and criticisms,
together with MacIntyre™s response, see the papers collected for a sympo-
sium sponsored by the British journal Inquiry: Clark 1983, Gaita 1983,
MacIntyre 1983d and O™Neill 1983; see also MacIntyre 1984a and Wartofsky
7. In what follows, I rely on MacIntyre™s exposition of his theory in Whose Justice?,
pp. 349“369.
8. MacIntyre emphasizes that the correspondence in question is between the
mind and its object, not between a concept or statement and its refer-
ent (as the correspondence theory is usually formulated); see Whose Justice?,
pp. 356“357.
9. My remarks in this paragraph go beyond what MacIntyre explicitly says, but
I believe that they are implied by his arguments; see Whose Justice?, pp. 363“
10. Admittedly, this account would ¬t at least some of the examples which MacIntyre
offers in After Virtue, for example farming or medicine; see After Virtue, p. 222.
But in light of the argument to be developed below, it is signi¬cant that these

are traditions in which practical success is closely linked to success in speculative
theories about the world.
11. Compare the much briefer, but essentially similar, analysis of deduction, di-
alectic, and the idea of a science according to Aristotle and Aquinas in Whose
Justice?, pp. 172“173.
12. A principle is per se nota (“known through itself”) if the predicate is in some
way implied by the meaning of the subject; however, such principles are not
necessarily self-evident to us because the meaning of the relevant terms may
only be apparent after extensive re¬‚ection.
13. On the logical, as opposed to epistemic, priority of ¬rst principles, see First
Principles, p. 10; cf. pp. 34“35. MacIntyre also emphasizes this point in Whose
Justice?, pp. 172“173. MacIntyre goes on to say that the relation between the
¬rst principles and the claims of the science is a result, not a starting point, for
investigation at First Principles, p. 30.
14. In my view, a plausible case can be made that physics is on the way to be-
coming a perfected science, and it is conceivable that some other physi-
cal sciences (astronomy, geology) and some branches of mathematics might
similarly attain this status. However, given MacIntyre™s very strong remarks
on the impossibility of any intellect to know that it has attained ¬nal and
de¬nitive knowledge on some subject, he might well claim that no science
can be considered to be perfected, even if we may reach a point at which
we cannot imagine what a successful challenge to the science would look
15. This goes beyond what MacIntyre explicitly says, but I believe it is a straight-
forward extension of his views.
16. For an early and underrated defense of this view, see Kovesi 1967; for more
recent examples, see Searle 1995 and Williams 1985. There are of course sig-
ni¬cant differences among the views of these three philosophers.
17. MacIntyre does attempt one such investigation in MacIntyre 1990b, but this is
little more than a sketch of issues. For an example of an extended study that
does attempt to identify and (partially) to resolve con¬‚icts between two widely
separated moral traditions, see Yearly 1990.
18. This is particularly evident from his summary of the points of con¬‚ict in Three
Rival Versions, pp. 109“113.
19. In view of the emphasis on medieval history in what follows, I would like to
acknowledge my general indebtedness to Kent 1995, pp. 1“38, which is par-
ticularly helpful in placing MacIntyre™s interpretation within the context of the
historiography of the period as it developed in the early twentieth century. I
generally agree with her speci¬c criticisms, but pursue a somewhat different
line in what follows.
20. By myself, at any rate; see Porter 1993.
21. For MacIntyre™s sources, see Three Rival Versions, pp. 103“104; the most recent
work cited was published in 1985. The following offer useful perspectives on
the relation between social and intellectual developments in the twelfth and
thirteenth centuries: Constable 1996; Lawrence 1994; Little 1978; Southern
Tradition in the Recent Work of Alasdair MacIntyre

1995; Spruyt 1994, pp. 59“150; and van Caenegem 1988. All of these bring out
some aspects of the ways in which con¬‚icts of authority shaped intellectual life
in this period. Of course, MacIntyre could not have consulted the most recent
works on this list.
22. I would like to thank the Reverend Kevin Lowery for invaluable assistance with
the bibliographic research for this chapter.
3 MacIntyre in the Province of the
Philosophy of the Social Sciences

MacIntyre™s early writings include a series of books and papers, primar-
ily published from the late ¬fties to the early seventies (Unconscious, Short
History, Marxism and Christianity, Self-Images; and MacIntyre 1957a, 1960,
1962, 1965c, 1966a, 1967a, 1967b, 1967c, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1974), but
continuing throughout his career (1977a, 1978a, 1978b), in the ill-de¬ned
domain of the philosophy of social science. A number of other writings
(1986a, 1986b, 1991d, 1994f ), including After Virtue, rely in various ways
on social science concepts, and a ¬nal category of writing includes a long
series of book reviews of social science and social theory texts and con-
cepts (1978d, 1979a, 1979b, 1979c, 1995c, 1998b). One view of the cluster
of early papers is that they are juvenilia that have little to do with the
phase of his work that begins with the publication of After Virtue. Yet this
argument does not square very well with the fact that MacIntyre never
stopped writing papers of this kind, or the fact that he continues to refer
to the inspiration of such ¬gures as the anthropologist Franz B. Steiner, or
the fact that MacIntyre continues to describe his project in social science
terms such as “social structure.” Nor does it square with the actual content
of the notion of tradition as practice, which, as he develops it, is a social
theory in which the traditional concerns of identity, selfhood, and intelli-
gibility are understood in terms of social interaction (especially 1986a and
Many of the key issues that the later papers address are contained
in his 1962 paper “A Mistake about Causality in Social Science,” which,
I will show, was an important seed bed for his later thought.1 For the
concept of practices MacIntyre developed was itself a social theory: the
“philosophical” conclusions are dependent on its validity as an account
of practices as a social phenomenon. This chapter focuses on a question
of philosophical or social theoretical method that bears on the merits of
this theory, one of which is critical: the validity of a form of argument
that ¬gures throughout MacIntyre™s work, in which characterizations of a
topic, “identi¬cations,” are used to exclude alternative explanations. In the

MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

end, I will argue, arguments of this form are intrinsically misleading or


The technical philosophical problem at the core of MacIntyre™s early writ-
ings was the problem of reasons and causes. Anthony Kenny later summa-
rized the conventional account during this period as follows:

When we explain action in terms of desires and beliefs we are not putting
forward any explanatory theory to account for action. It is true that desires
and beliefs explain action; but the explanation is not of any causal hypo-
thetical form. It is not as if the actions of human beings constitute a set of
raw data “ actions identi¬able on their faces as the kinds of actions they
are “ for which we may seek an explanatory hypothesis. On the contrary,
many human actions are not identi¬able as actions of a particular kind un-
less they are already seen and interpreted as proceeding from a particular
set of desires and beliefs. (Kenny 1978, p. 12)

This account was the alternative to, and led to the discrediting of, the
idea that “reasons explanations” were a variety of causal explanation. Rea-
sons explanations were descriptions in intentional language of a set of events
that the description connected. To be “identi¬able as action,” in Kenny™s
language, implied proceeding from particular sets of beliefs and desires. The
reason the sets were “particular” was that the connection between them and
the actions that “proceeded” from them was not caused but logical: the be-
liefs and desires were reasons for particular actions that also explained the
actions. When MacIntyre later wrote of the stock of action descriptions in
a society, he meant descriptions of what is “identi¬able as action.”
What is the status of these descriptions or identi¬cations? An earlier tra-
dition, exempli¬ed by Weber, had put them on the side of the interpretation
of meaning, which was taken to be consistent with, and not exclude, causal
explanations. The key to the new account of action explanation was that
they did. MacIntyre™s ¬rst major philosophy publication, “Determinism” in
Mind (1957a), vigorously upheld the claim that

to show that behavior is rational is enough to show that it is not causally
determined in the sense of being the effect of a set of suf¬cient condi-
tions operating independently of the agent™s deliberation or possibility of
deliberation. So the discoveries of the physiologist and psychologist may

inde¬nitely increase our knowledge of why men behave irrationally but
they could never show that rational behavior in this sense was causally de-
termined. (MacIntyre 1957a, p. 35)

Even in the case of the hypnotized person, MacIntyre argued, only if that
person acted in accordance with hypnotic suggestion “no matter how good
the reasons we offered him” for doing otherwise could we claim that the
behavior was produced by the hypnosis (MacIntyre 1957a, p. 38). Reasons
explanations, in short, are probative with respect to the truth of causal
claims, and, in the absence of unusual circumstances, exclude them: if action
is rational, it is not caused.2
MacIntyre™s ¬rst conventional philosophical book, The Unconscious
(1958), was an attempt to extend the notion of intentional language and
the idea of description to account for another class of action explanations
thought to be causal, those involving the mechanisms of Freudian theory.
He argued that Freud had misconstrued his own achievement by making
them into a scienti¬c theory and construing his explanations as dependent
on the discovery of a new causal realm. Freud™s real achievement was largely
a matter of extending intentional language to encompass unconscious mo-
tivations. MacIntyre argued that Freud™s own causal construal of these ex-
planations was a misinterpretation (Unconscious, pp. 71“74). MacIntyre did
not argue that the attempt to provide a causal, theoretical account of behav-
ior was in principle mistaken: theorizing about unobservables is legitimate,
and theorizing about the unconscious in the normal fashion of hypothetico-
deductivism would be legitimate as well (Unconscious, p. 46). His question
is rather one that can be answered by an analysis of whether Freud™s expla-
nations are in fact of this type, and the answer is that they are not. Freud
thinks of his unconscious motives as causes, but “in practice, when Freud
assigns an unconscious motive to an action he ascribes a purpose” rather
than a cause, though a purpose which is inaccessible to the patient (Uncon-
scious, p. 61). Thus in practice what Freud has extended into the realm of the
unconscious is not causality but intentionality, and in his treatments “the
adducing of logically relevant considerations plays an essential part” (Un-
conscious, p. 36). Because the notion of unconscious intention is not causal
it does not require the unconscious as a causal entity, and thus does not
require causal theory (Unconscious, p. 96“97). Freud™s usages conceal this.
“Repression,” for example, appears to be a causal concept, but it is not: it
is a metaphor used for descriptive purposes (Unconscious, p. 79). The the-
ory of the unconscious, understood as a scienti¬c theory, was, MacIntyre
argued, gratuitous, for the discovery of unconsciously motivated actions,
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

which MacIntyre accepted as an important achievement of psychoanalysis,
did not require such a theory, nor did it require Freud™s complex causal
machinery of the mind. The case against the theory is thus an application
of the standard account of theoretical entities in philosophy of science.
Showing that Freud™s explanations can be construed in intentional terms
serves to show why the elaborate and highly questionable structure of men-
tal entities in the theory are not required by the explanations he actually
gives. This is a form of the argument that identifying an action as intentional
excludes the possibility of causal explanation, or theory, but it is different
from certain famous versions of this argument, a difference that is impor-
tant throughout MacIntyre™s discussions of social theory. The difference
¬gures in the contrast between The Unconscious and Peter Winch™s The Idea
of a Social Science and Its Relation to Philosophy. Each appeared in the same
year, 1958, and in the same series of little red books (Routledge and Kegan
Paul™s “Studies in Philosophical Psychology”). Winch™s book was destined
to become a classic. In it, he boldly had extended the “reasons” side of
the reasons and causes arguments by arguing that only those reasons that
were part of an activity, part (to use MacIntyre™s language) of the stock of
descriptions available to its participants, could ¬gure in an explanation of
the activity. This argument depended on the constitutive role of agents™
concepts in the formation of the intention to perform a particular act. The
character of these concepts precluded causal explanation, which required
concepts of a different type, suitable for generalization.
Causal accounts of actions typically appeal to the notion that the ac-
tion can be described and categorized independently of the reasons of the
agent. In an example that Winch took from Pareto, Christian baptism is
described as a lustral rite. Winch argued that this description was an error:
the action thus described was falsely described because it was not the action
intended by the agents; the intended action was intended in the form of
the Christian concept of baptism. An explanation of lustral rites does not
explain the actions of the believers because it is not a description of what
they did in the strict sense of matching the conceptual content of the actions
as they were conceived by the participants. Winch™s book extended this line
of argument to other ¬gures in the social sciences, showing that they fell
afoul of the problem of the constitutive conceptual relationship between
the identi¬cation of actions and the content of the intentions of the agent.
Winch drew the full implications of this argument, and they were radical.
To explain the acts of Homeric heroes, or of believers in witchcraft, is to
identify the actions in their conceptual terms and then to explicate their
concepts. In explaining by explicating concepts one comes to an end, and

this was, for Winch, also the end of social science, and its sole end. The goal
of causal knowledge of the world of action, the goal of the social sciences,
was incoherent, and social science properly understood was a branch of
philosophy because it was a form of conceptual analysis.
The tensions produced by this extension of the idea that reasons ex-
plain, and explain in some exclusive sense, are multiple and complex, and
they appear between MacIntyre and Winch even at this early point. The
argument that the concepts contained in intentions were constitutive of
action ¬t problematically with the notion of rational action more narrowly
construed, as MacIntyre had construed it in “Determinism.” It was plausible
to de¬ne rational action in the strict sense of rational decision as uncaused,
as MacIntyre did in his paper. But MacIntyre™s argument there was very lim-
ited in one respect: he did not identify any large, actual class of actions as
rational according to his de¬nition, and indeed, it would be consistent with
his argument in that text to claim that the content of the category of rational
action was vanishingly small. The idea that “rational action” involved the
adducing of reasons, which ¬gures in The Unconscious and “Determinism,”
was different and had different implications. Argument, like analysis, is
potentially interminable, and in any case raises questions about the ulti-
mate grounds of argument. These questions had relativistic implications,
since ultimate grounds for us might not be ultimate grounds for someone
else. So did the idea suggested in Anscombe™s Intention (1957 [2000]) that
the relevant “reasons” were practical syllogisms, an idea which in any case ¬t
poorly with the idea of rational decisionmaking. The “constitutivity” argu-
ment went even further (Weber 1968 [1978], pp. 5“8, 17; see also Turner
and Factor 1994, p. 31). To de¬ne all action as uncaused by virtue of the fact
that it is conceptualized by agents led to radical conclusions, conclusions
that con¬‚icted with the ordinary usage it purported to analyze.
The link between intention and action, in ordinary usage, is some-
times weak, even if it is backed by practical syllogisms. Weakness of will,
multiple relevant motives, and sheer inconsistency are features of human
action. Here it does seem reasonable to ask what the real reason was for
an act, something that reference to practical syllogisms does not answer,
but “cause” might. The idea of ordinary usage, in any case, raises the ques-
tion of whose ordinary usage. Some reasons explanations, especially those
in other cultures, seem to be, by our lights at least, systematically false,
defective, or unintelligible: the beliefs behind the reasons are false, the cat-
egories in which they are expressed (such as Aristotle™s categories of food
types) are defective, and the cosmologies which underwrite the categories
are little better than superstitious gibberish. Even the basic inferences made
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

by agents in these societies (inferences we can apprehend them as making,
and even supply the “rules” by which they are made) are not “reasons” for
us. Do these reasons explanations “ which undeniably are constitutive of
the intentions of the agents “ count as adequate explanations, or as genuine
reasons? Is “of course, he is warding off evil spirits” an explanation? This
is not as simple a problem as it appears.
In the ¬rst place, this argument creates a problem with the implications
that MacIntyre drew from his discussion of rational action. There, very
strong truth-claims are being made for the signi¬cance of reasons descrip-
tions “ claims to the effect that giving a reasons explanation warrants claims
about causation “ negative claims, claims to the effect that some action was
not caused because it was done for a reason. If we accept that a pure, ra-
tional decision is by virtue of its character uncaused, does this extend more
broadly to any action constituted by an intention? Is it really the case that
psychologists could discover nothing that had any bearing on, for example,
the reasoning involved in the practice of ancient Mayan kings of bleeding
their genitals in public, or the actions of criminals, or reasoning about sex-
ual desire, or crowd behavior? This is implausible in the extreme “ in effect,
it amounts to the claim that social science is unexplanatory gibberish but
the practical syllogisms of believers in witchcraft are genuinely explana-
tory; that ordinary historical explanations of such things as the causes of
the Great War were impossible in principle, and that history as practiced by
historians was therefore bunk; and that comparisons between institutions
were inadmissible, for they violated the constitutivity principle. MacIntyre
believed none of this. Indeed, he served as a kind of go-between, continu-
ing to attempt to make the claims of philosophers square with the claims
of social scientists. For example, his 1960 paper “Purpose and Intelligent
Action” attempts to make sense of the notion of intelligent action in a way
that ¬ts both the concept of action and the results of intelligence testing
research. The large problem of the relation of social science explanations
to intentional action was still there to be solved.


MacIntyre™s ¬rst major paper on social science itself was “A Mistake about
Causality in Social Science,” published in 1962. It represented an extension
of the strategy of “Determinism” and The Unconscious to this larger prob-
lem, and to a ¬gure with whom MacIntyre continued to wrestle throughout
his career “ Max Weber. The “mistake” to which the title refers is Weber™s.

Weber had constructed historical explanations of beliefs, such as the par-
ticular “economic ethic” that he described under the rubric of “the spirit of
capitalism,” by constructing a causal account of the nature of the in¬‚uence
of certain other kinds of ideas, namely the ideas of vocation, predestination,
and worldliness that were a part of Calvinistic Protestantism. The explana-
tion as formulated by Weber himself is causal, and this is part of the mistake.
It depends on the claim that there is a distinctive psychological connecting
link, namely a state of anxiety in the minds of believers, that supplies what
Weber thought was the distinctive motive force for capitalist activity of a
new kind, in conformity with the novel “ethic” he identi¬ed.
Here was an explanation, or apparent explanation, rich in the kind of dif-
¬culty that a serious application of the reasons and causes distinction needed
to address. It carried with it other intriguing baggage of special relevance to
MacIntyre: Weber™s account of capitalism had been routinely treated, in the
1950s, as the counterpoint to, and refutation of, the “materialist” view of
capitalism and of history generally. The conclusion of Weber™s account of
the historical course of rationalization had an even more interesting set
of implications. His argument that Calvinistic Protestantism represented a
rationalization of the Christian tradition was a natural counterpart to the
conclusions reached by such Protestant theologians as Karl Barth, whom
MacIntyre had other reasons for attacking. For Weber, in the course of the
process of rationalization, of which the “disenchantment of the world” was
a consequence, the “superstitious” elements of the Christian tradition were
gradually stripped away.
MacIntyre does with Weber something similar to what he did with
Freud: he reconstructs Weber™s explanation by turning it into a pure issue
of rationality and contradiction, thus dispensing with the need for cause.
Where Weber interpreted the early Protestants as being caught in the grip
of a consistent theodicy that had anxiety as a consequence and that had the
further causal consequence of strongly reinforcing a particular pattern of
reasoning, the “ethic,” MacIntyre saw them as in the grip of a theologi-
cal contradiction, which they resolved rationally. The two lines of argu-
ment can be compared very simply. For Calvin and for a rational Calvinist,
the recognition of God™s omniscient and omnipotence not only posed the
usual problem of the existence of evil, the traditional problem of theodicy,
but posed it in a very particular form. The revelatory writings taught that
there was heaven and hell, and it followed from this that some people were
damned, or going to hell, and other people were saved, or going to heaven.
We as humans do not have knowledge of whether we are going to heaven or
hell, whereas God, being omniscient, knows in advance. This is the basis of
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

the doctrine of predestination. It could be that God grants us free will, and
it could also be that we in some sense are allowed by God to earn salvation
through the doing of good works. But this “allowing” and “earning” is in
the end essentially a sham, simply because God in his omniscience already
knows who will be saved by their “good works.”3 In the end, our salvation
is entirely a matter of God™s grace; we cannot earn it on our own, and cer-
tainly not by good works. For Weber this was the transparent consequence
of making the Christian theodicy consistent, and it had a predictable causal
effect: believers had a deep anxiety about whether they were predestined to
election or damnation.
MacIntyre ran this argument the other way around. Good works, he
argued, were enjoined in the revelatory writings. Protestant theology thus
was placed in the untenable position of arguing that what the revelatory
writings commanded was in some sense irrelevant to God and God™s na-
ture (which they supposed themselves to have theological access to through
their own theorizing). This contradiction between theology and revelation
could only mean that the Calvinists were mistaken about God™s nature and
that Protestantism was a false doctrine. They found a way out of this con-
tradiction by embracing the notion of good works in practice while denying
it in theory.4 Thus, contra Weber, it is Protestantism rather than Catholi-
cism that arises out of irrationality and contradiction. The consequences of
this contradiction, and people™s response to it, is thus explained not through
the kind of psychological mechanism that Weber invokes but rather through
the logical fact of contradiction “ something that occurs at the level of be-
lief, and also needs no further explanation, because it is “rational” to resolve
the contradiction.
MacIntyre™s argument is relentless in placing his historical account on
the reasons rather than the causes side of the line. “The relationship which
[Weber] in fact manages to pinpoint is indeed a rational one. Weber in fact
presents us with capitalist actions as the conclusion of a practical syllogism
which has Protestant premises” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 55). Weber™s concern
with causal alternatives “ the cases of India and China “ “is entirely out
of place” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 55). The statistical material Weber presents
is relevant, but only in that it shows that there were people whose behav-
ior corresponded to the practical syllogism “ that is to say, people who
conformed to the description. The fact of conformity to the description
is sovereign, and causally probative: because it is rational to resolve the
contradiction as MacIntyre constructs the practical syllogism there are no
causal facts of the matter. The “mistake” supposedly made by Weber, and
by social scientists more generally, is to think otherwise.

This is an application of the claim MacIntyre made in “Determinism,”
but one for which we can see how much might fall into the category of
rational action. The sharp line MacIntyre draws in that text between be-
having irrationally and behaving rationally, in which rational behavior is
the case in which the agent would change the course of action if and only if
“logically relevant considerations” were adduced, now is extended to an ex-
ample that is more realistic “ the case in which the agent has various reasons,
and the determinants that select what the operative reasons are from these
available reasons may be (and were hypothesized by Weber to be) condi-
tions, such as anxiety, that are unlike “reasons” or “information,” the terms
MacIntyre uses in “Determinism” (MacIntyre 1957a, p. 35). MacIntyre™s
response was to acknowledge the problem of inconsistency between beliefs
and actions itself. Real human action rarely works as neatly as the simple
relation between a belief, a good, and an action modeled in the practical
syllogism “Dry food suits any man,” “here™s some dry food” ’ the action
of eating it (MacIntyre 1962, p. 53). But the model does solve a problem. It
accounts for the constitutive or “internal and conceptual” character of the
intention-action relationship. The idea that practical syllogisms provided
logical backing for the intention-action link allowed MacIntyre to assim-
ilate action explanations to the decision-oriented model of rational action
in “Determinism.” This avoided the claim that action was shown to be un-
caused simply by virtue of the fact that it was conceptually constituted. It
also allowed him to make sense of the problem of false practical syllogisms.
He argued that we can imagine a dialogue with the practical syllogizer in
which the beliefs of the agent can be revealed, and the false ones corrected.
When the subject in this dialogue “insists on simply af¬rming the premises
and denying the conclusion, he becomes unintelligible: we literally do not
know in the one case what he is saying or in the other case what he is doing”
(MacIntyre 1962, p. 53). The use of “intelligible” is telling, for it persists “
twenty-four years later MacIntyre was still wrestling with the notion of
intelligibility (MacIntyre 1986a). Here, the later conclusions are foreshad-
owed. This style of explanations comes to an end not in concepts but in the
intelligible agent.
Weber™s explanation had singled out one strand of the plethora of de-
sires, beliefs, and decisions that early capitalists made, and tried to explain
why this strand proved to be so causally signi¬cant. This was a question that
MacIntyre™s approach could not address, except through the insistence that
the strand of reasoning he described was the only possible account, given
the evidence, rather than a possible account among others, that evidence
would decide between.
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

One may observe again here a characteristic of MacIntyre™s style “ his
reliance on a particular kind of winner-take-all reasoning “ which we may
characterize as “exclusive identi¬cation.” He himself characterizes this form
of argument, in a different context in the same paper, by saying that “what
I have been concerned to do is to identify rather than to explain. But if one
accepts this identi¬cation then we will have to take out a widely accepted
class of explanations” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 69). The new context is the prob-
lem of alternative conceptual schemes, and here we see MacIntyre attempt
for the ¬rst time to provide a systematic alternative to Winch. MacIntyre™s
approach concedes one of Winch™s points about the conceptual constitution
of action, that “if the limits of action are the limits of description, then to
analyze the ideas current in society is also to discern the limits within which
action necessarily moves in that society” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 60), from
which he draws the conclusion that “the theory of ideology appears not as
one more compartmentalized concept of the sociologist, but as part of his
central concern with society as such” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 60). However,
consistent with his earlier accounts of rational action as action open to the
adduction of reasons, he argues that the descriptions in the stock of descrip-
tions available in a given social group at a given time “occur as constituents
of beliefs, speculations, and projects and as these are continually criticized,
modi¬ed, rejected, or improved, the stock of descriptions changes. The
changes in human action are thus intimately linked to the thread of ratio-
nal criticism in history” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 60). This approach in turn
becomes the distinction between two types of ideology.
One is represented by the Azande, who had been discussed by Michael
Polanyi in his magnum opus Personal Knowledge, also published in 1958.
The Azande were striking for having had a conceptual system in which
witchcraft beliefs were central, and which had ad hoc answers to any ev-
idence that might be given against it, and was thus closed to criticism.
MacIntyre claims that in primitive societies closure is characteristic: “they
have their concepts and beliefs; they move in a closed conceptual circle”
(MacIntyre 1962, p. 63). But while “[a]ll primitive societies, especially iso-
lated ones, tend to be closed . . . [m]ost later societies are open; there are
established modes of criticism” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 63). MacIntyre draws
the line between “open” and “closed” in such a way that Marxism is not a
closed scheme, but Stalinism was. The difference is that Stalinism repre-
sented “a concerted attempt to delimit the available stock of concepts and
beliefs and at a certain point to return to a closed circle” (MacIntyre 1962,
p. 63). We can distinguish the two kinds of case because for Stalinism clo-
sure can be accomplished only by recourse to irrational devices that exclude

rational alternatives. Closure, in short, can occur “rationally” only for prim-
itive societies that have never known openness, but elsewhere closure must
be forced, or irrationally induced. This is an intriguing move, in light of
what follows, not least because it suggests that “ideology” always has an act
of “irrationality” in its historical pedigree. MacIntyre argued that Stalin™s
terror, which could “remove physically all traces of alternative” arguments,
was necessitated by the fact that ideological closure is not possible in a
modern industrial society. Even in Stalin™s Soviet Union there were the
Old Bolshevists, “who in their own theories and practices, were the bearers
of an alternative wider conceptual scheme (it is in the light of our canons
of rationality that we can see it as wider), which prevented consciousness
being closed to non-Stalinist alternatives” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 68). Terror,
he thought, is bound to fail, even though in Stalinist terms “the whole thing
is rational; it can only be challenged by leaving this closed circle” of ideas
(MacIntyre 1962, pp. 68“69). This “identi¬cation” of Stalinism as rational
on its own terms meant that classes of explanation that appealed to such
notions as “cult of personality” are wrong (MacIntyre 1962, p. 69). But
it did not mean that it was immune to explanation, since the devices that
sustained it are irrational by our standards.


The cultural tsunami that was Thomas Kuhn™s Structure of Scienti¬c Revolu-
tions (1962) was published in the same year as “A Mistake about Causality
in Social Science.” Kuhn™s argument maps on to the problem of the Azande
as follows: science is like a primitive society in that its concepts also move,
for long periods of time, in a closed circle. Anomalies are dismissed, just
as they are by the Azande, with ad hoc explanations “ of the failures of the
oracles, for the Azande, and of unexplained but possibly relevant results,
for scientists within their paradigm. The rational alternatives to the existing
paradigms that emerge are treated by scientists not with openness but with
endless attempts to exclude them from serious discussion. These attempts
seem irrational only in retrospect, once a scienti¬c revolution has occurred
and replaced the previous closed system with a new one. The revolution
itself is not and cannot be a matter of rationally considering alternatives, at
least if they are fundamental alternatives, because the only relevant “ratio-
nal” criteria are internal to the closed system of concepts. In this respect
scientists are in the same position as the Azande. There is no such thing
in the history of science as an explanation to the effect that some belief
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

is true or rational simply because it is true or rational. It is only true or
rational according to our standards or theirs, and there is no way of ex-
plaining our standards as rational “ to say they are rational simply because
they are is itself an instance of reasoning within a closed circle of concepts.
The open/closed distinction is a sham, or perhaps it would be better to say
a relative distinction, that operates internally to a system of concepts, not
between them. The only way out of a paradigm was a “revolution” that
could not be construed as rational in the past paradigm, and conversely
the past paradigm could not be properly understood in the language of
the new.
MacIntyre™s discussions of Stalinism and the Azande, his insistence on
the conceptually relative character of action-explanations as always rational
and always restricted to the “stock of descriptions” in the explainee™s society,
his apparent equation of our standards of rationality with rationality as such,
his invocation of Popper™s distinction between open and closed, and his
depiction of Stalinism as an attempt to secure closure, all read in retrospect
like a man walking into a trap.
MacIntyre argued that “the beginning of an explanation of why certain
criteria are taken to be rational in some societies is that they are ratio-
nal.” Presumably he meant that “our” society was among these societies,
for in the next sentence he adds: “And since this has to enter into our
explanation we cannot explain social behavior independently of our own
norms of rationality” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 61). MacIntyre characterized the
process of changing someone™s views by argument as follows: “I appeal to
impersonal canons of rationality and the relationship between us can only
be elucidated by an account of the established features of rule-following”
(MacIntyre 1962, p. 68). This suggests that he thought at this time that
impersonal standards of rationality were universal, their application gov-
erned by locally established procedures of rule-following. He might have
avoided making such an assumption simply by leaving out the notion of
“criteria” of rationality or the idea that we have “our own norms of ratio-
nality.” Instead, by making an unargued identi¬cation of “our own norms
of rationality” with rationality as such MacIntyre opened the door to the full
form of the puzzle of rationality and relativism: appealing to “our norms”
makes the explanations explanations for us; appealing to rationality as such
raises the question of how we are to af¬rm our criteria of rationality without
The term “paradigm” included the notion of a rational standard among
its multiple meanings, and Kuhn™s discussion made it clear that when
scientists made substantive judgments of rational adequacy of evidence,

and of whether an anomaly was signi¬cant in science, they relied on
paradigms. Within paradigms justi¬cation was circular “ evidence sup-
ported the paradigm, but the paradigm de¬ned what counted as evidence;
paradigms were validated by explanatory and predictive successes, but they
de¬ned what counted as explanation and what success amounted to. But
Kuhn™s case was historiographic and historical: for him incommensurability
was simply a fact, shown by the reactions of incomprehension of scientists
adhering the old paradigm in the face of the new paradigm. Moreover, ac-
cording to Kuhn, what MacIntyre in this paper characterized as unusual
and “slightly self-contradictory” (MacIntyre 1962, p. 63) about ideological
thinking, namely the attempt to close the circle of concepts, to “prevent any
criticism which does not fall inside the established conceptual framework”
is what scientists normally do in the course of solidifying the triumph of a
paradigm and dealing with anomalies.
The naive idea that divergence in conceptual schemes was error, that
there was unproblematic progress with respect to rationality, or truth, in
the course of the replacement of conceptual schemes or in the comparison
of divergence schemes, validated by personal canons, was over with Kuhn.
For better or worse, this was a cultural transformation to which MacIntyre,
and every other thinker of the era, was compelled to respond. To fail to do so
would lead to a relativism in which Stalinism was merely another paradigm
with its own rationality, and in which our judgments about the nonrational-
ity of its methods of self-justi¬cation or closure would be merely expressions
of “our” paradigm. The distinction between ideology and rational adequacy
would collapse. Reasons explanations of action would be explanations only
for us. But vindicating “our” standards faced its own problems. A claim that
the explanation of the fact that certain criteria are taken to be rational by
us is that they are rational would simply be circular “ a justi¬cation of our
standards by reference to our standards. The Azande and Stalin could say
the same.


MacIntyre had no wish to escape from this problem, which, in various
guises, was to be the central subject of his later career. Winch posed a new
problem, a problem of the logical conditions of understanding. Winch now
argued that there could never be grounds for judgments of rationality of
the beliefs of other cultures, no matter how outr´ the beliefs, because such
judgments about beliefs seem necessarily to involve pressing the concepts in
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

question where they would not naturally be taken and thus misconstruing
them. The case was the now familiar Azande. The facts of the matter,
reported by E. E. Evans-Pritchard, were these. The Azande employed a
particular method for answering a wide variety of questions. They asked
a question that could be given a yes or no answer while they poisoned a
small domestic fowl. If the bird lived, the answer was “yes”; if the bird died,
the answer was “no.” The method was used for making decisions but also
for answering causal questions such as: “Is Prince Ndoruma responsible for
placing bad medicines in the roof of my hut?” (Winch 1970, p. 86). Oracles,
however, can con¬‚ict: the implications of the oracular pronouncements are
often inconsistent with one another, and future experiences do not always
square with predictions. Witch powers were supposed by the Azande to
be hereditary, so discovering through the oracle that someone is a witch
implied that the person™s whole family line are witches. But other oracles
might, and do, contradict this by answering “no” to the question of whether
a given person is a witch. The Azande supplied various explanations for the
failure of oracles; for example, that a bad poison was used or the ritual
was faulty. These ad hoc explanations were, as the Europeans who studied
them understood, not suf¬cient to overcome the endless contradictions that
belief in oracles produced.
The way in which Evans-Pritchard had described the Azande involves a
basic principle of logic, the principle of noncontradiction, that had ¬gured
among MacIntyre™s “impersonal canons of rationality.” But it is not clear,
as Winch points out, that Evans-Pritchard is entitled to do so in this case.
Evans-Pritchard™s challenge is ¬rst to understand the concepts of the Azande
and that judgments about contradiction seem to depend on correct under-
standing. Our understanding of concepts is ¬rst a matter of understanding
how they are used. In the case of the Azande, as Evans-Pritchard himself
tells us, the people who engage in the practice of oracles do not have any
interest in the problem of contradiction, or indeed any theoretical interest
in the subject. For Winch, this suggests that there is no mystery about the
contradictory character of Azande thinking, only an error that creates a
false problem. It is the interpreter, Evans-Pritchard, who is in error, and his
error is conceptual: he wishes to use the concepts in ways that the Azande
do not use them. Evans-Pritchard is guilty of attributing to the Azande a
concept other than the one they use. Pushing the concept into uses that
are unnatural to the Azande, to the point of contradiction, is the same as
misconstruing the concept, and the appearance of contradictions in a re-
construction of their thought shows no more than that the reconstruction
is faulty.

So Evans-Pritchard failed to understand the Azande, and consequently
failed to describe their mode of thought. This seems to mean that under-
standing these concepts precludes judgments about their beliefs and asser-
tions about the rationality of these beliefs, and that, in the case of concepts
that ¬gure in developed forms of life, to make a claim that the concepts
are “irrational” amounts to misunderstanding them as they are used by the
participants in that form of life, where in fact their use in practice does not
lead to collapse in the way that a contradiction leads to the collapse of a
theory. In short, claims about the “rationality” of other cultures or their
contents are inevitably misdirected “ directed at a false reconstruction of
the concepts of the other culture rather than the concepts as the people of
the culture employ them. MacIntyre began promptly and explicitly to ex-
tricate himself from the trap created by Winch™s arguments by abandoning
some of his earlier arguments and acknowledging some previous, unac-
knowledged con¬‚icts. The strong version of the constitutivity argument,
with which MacIntyre ¬‚irted in 1962 (cf. esp. MacIntyre 1962, pp. 60“62),
it was now evident, had relativistic implications: if identi¬cation of action
was explanation, and identi¬cation could only be on the terms of the society
in question, we would be limited to these explanations; rational criticism,
which MacIntyre had then thought allowed freedom from these limitations,
did not escape the circle of local concepts; the exclusion of all other explana-
tions of action meant that we are deprived of any means to account for their
beliefs. To say that Stalin™s methods were irrational was not merely to apply
our standards of rationality, but to misunderstand his. Appealing to imper-
sonal canons assumes understanding; showing his beliefs are contradictory
shows we have not understood.
MacIntyre™s new approach appears in his papers “The Idea of a Social
Science” and “Rationality and the Explanation of Action,” both of which
he included in Against the Self-Images of the Age (1971). Each of these was in
large part a commentary on Winch. MacIntyre now argued that the reasons
and causes distinction was overdrawn, and that his previous view of the sig-
ni¬cance of some of the key arguments in the reasons and causes literature
was mistaken: “we shall be in conceptual error if we look in the direction
of the causes of the physical movements involved in the performance of
the actions. It does not follow that there is no direction in which it might
be fruitful to search for antecedent events that might function as causes”
(MacIntyre 1967a, p. 200; see also p. 215).5
The hypnosis example reappears, now to make a novel point, against
Winch™s use of the identi¬cation argument. MacIntyre now argues that pos-
sessing a reason, which is what the identi¬cation establishes, is not enough
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

for explanation “ possessing a reason may be a state of affairs identi¬able in-
dependently of the performance of the action. Recall that in “Determinism”
MacIntyre had used the example in support of the claim that the agent™s ac-
tion in this case was not “rational behavior” and that “to show that behavior
is rational is enough to show that it is not causally determined in the sense
of being the effect of a set of suf¬cient conditions operating independently
of the agent™s deliberation or possibility of deliberation” (MacIntyre 1957a,
p. 35). In the case of the hypnotized person, it is causally determined, and
consequently considerations of rationality do not apply. In the later paper,
the issue is whether a given reason is “causally effective,” and this is a ques-
tion that presupposes that the hypnotized subject possesses a reason, but
one that is not the cause of the action. In this case the question of whether
the reason caused the action “depends on what causal generalizations we
have been able to establish” (MacIntyre 1967a, p. 117). So Weber, it now
appears, was correct in his methodological self-conception, at least in this
respect: the question of whether a particular belief is the cause of a particular
action is not a category mistake.
In the passage in which MacIntyre connects the problem of reasons to
the problem of the status of nonrelative social science concepts he is still
concerned to vindicate the notion that there can be cross-cultural general-
izations, a commitment he soon curtailed. But he also has his eye on two
other issues that had ¬gured in “A Mistake about Causality in Social Sci-
ence” (1962): the problem of explaining the change from one set of beliefs
to another, and the problem of false consciousness, which MacIntyre under-
stands in this context to be a form of the problem of error about the actual
causes of one™s actions as distinct from the rationalizations one provides
for them, as well as the problem of erroneous belief, such as the witchcraft
beliefs in the time of King James and among the Azande. The problem
here was whether rationality, the criteria of rationality of a society, falsity in
the sense of false consciousness, and coherence, to list a few of MacIntyre™s
favorite usages, could be extricated from the closed circle of concepts or
were simply part of the circle. The problem was not Kuhn™s or Winch™s
alone, nor was it merely a matter of the philosophy of social science.
MacIntyre now addressed it in the form of religion and the familiar
Christian puzzle, known as Tertullian™s paradox, that understanding was
a precondition of belief but belief was a precondition of understanding,
which he turned on its head in a surprising way.
The argument of “Is Understanding Religion Compatible with Believ-
ing?” (1970) starts with the religious form of the problem of incommensura-
bility: are the skeptic and the believers talking about the same thing? Or, as

some Protestants would say, is it that the skeptic has not rejected Christian-
ity, but instead failed to understand it, and thus rejected something else?
This latter argument depends on a strong notion of understanding that
implies acceptance, or at least “sharing.” But, as MacIntyre notes, “anthro-
pologists and sociologists routinely claim to understand concepts they do
not share. They identify such concepts as mana, or taboo, without themselves
using them “ or so it seems” (MacIntyre 1970, p. 64). The problems are
parallel, and also, MacIntyre shows, so are the solutions: anthropologists
wind up with various approaches that parallel positions in the philosophy of
religion. The key case is again Evans-Pritchard, whose Nuer Religion (1956)
describes the concept of kwoth, and, as MacIntyre puts it, by identifying the
rules governing its use in a “social context of practice” is “able to show that
the utterances . . . are rule-governed” (MacIntyre 1970, p. 65). MacIntyre™s
point is that while this enables him to “show us what the Nuer idea of in-
telligibility is” and “why the Nuer think their religion makes sense . . . this
is not to have shown the Nuer are right” (MacIntyre 1970, p. 65).
Can we judge intelligibility, incoherence, and so forth independently
of the Nuer “ or alternatively the Christian believer “ and arrive at the
conclusion that their beliefs do not make sense? Or is this necessarily to have
failed to understand them, as Winch supposed? If the idea of one overall
norm of intelligibility is a metaphysical ¬ction, is the only alternative total
relativism? The point was of course at the core of philosophical discussion
generally in the last quarter of the twentieth century, so it is all the more
striking that, on the page following MacIntyre™s elaboration of this problem,
he appeals to Franz Steiner™s discussion of taboo.6
The point MacIntyre makes against Winch in elaborating the problem
is that “criteria have a history,” which bears directly on “the suggestion that
agreement in following a rule is suf¬cient to make sense” (MacIntyre 1970,
p. 68). Taboo, it appears, is a concept that we can provide rules for using, but
cannot, at least on the basis of current usage, make meaningful, intelligible,
rational, and so forth (MacIntyre 1970, p. 68). On the basis of present usage
alone, we might say that taboos are prohibitions where no further reason
exists, and as he jokes, “the temptation to tell anthropologists that taboo is
the name of a non-natural quality would be very strong for any Polynesian
who had read G. E. Moore” (MacIntyre 1970, p. 68). Steiner™s solution, as
MacIntyre construes it, is to say that taboo formerly did make sense, but that
the usages recorded by anthropologists no longer do. As MacIntyre puts
it, Steiner has “constructed from the uses of taboo a sense which it might
have had and a possible history of how this sense was lost” (MacIntyre 1970,
p. 68). With this phrase, one sees the key insight of A Short History of Ethics
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

and ahead to After Virtue and the rest of the later project. Where does it
leave us with religion? As with ethics, we must accept the realization that our
troubles with our concepts in the present are a matter of their separation
from embodied social practice and from the history in which they made
sense. In the case of religion it leads to MacIntyre™s novel conclusion that
Christians don™t understand the religion they profess. Barthian theologians,
G. E. Moore, and taboo thinkers are in the end no different.
Steiner™s account of taboo is one in which something intelligible, namely
the sense of the dangers of things and places, turns into something unintel-
ligible “ apparently pointless prohibitions “ which can be understood only
by constructing its historical origins in the context of which it is intelligi-
ble. The trope recurs in MacIntyre™s thought in many forms, notably in the
problem of morality in A Short History of Ethics, which accounts for moral
theory as a means of making sense of substantive moral notions whose orig-
inal moral context of social practice has disappeared. Thus, with Stoicism,
for which virtues that made a particular kind of sense in a social order in
which practicing these virtues had visibly good results, in the disordered
public world of the Roman Empire, had to be practiced, if they were prac-
ticed at all, without regard to consequences, as purely private virtues “ a
notion that would have been oxymoronic for Aristotle (Short History,
pp. 100“109). Here we see Steiner™s basic strategy brilliantly applied: to
make sense of the Stoics, it is not enough to ¬nd intelligible analogues
between their beliefs and beliefs in our own culture that are already in-
telligible to us. As a matter of interpretation this may be suf¬cient; as a
matter of history it is not “ history, in this case the history of moral ideas
and moral philosophy, would become a parade of bizarre inventions. What
is needed is a rational reconstruction of the irrational that makes the in-
ventions intelligible as attempted solutions to real problems at the level of
ideas “ problems such as what the authoritative basis of morality might be
in the face of diversity in practice “ and existential problems, such as how
one can use power in a violent and disordered society in which acting on
old ideas of decency produces defeat and suffering.
The same kind of arguments cannot of course apply to science, or to
any ongoing tradition of inquiry in which coherence is not lost. But these
too “have a history” and, in these cases, a certain kind of history has a cru-
cial role. This is the argument against Kuhn that MacIntyre deployed in
“Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative and the Philosophy of Sci-
ence” (1977a). The article deals with the issue of commensurability, which
had been critical to the philosophical impact of Kuhn. Paul Feyerabend,
in 1962, published a lengthy paper in Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy

of Science III that made the issues very explicit: the traditional account of
theoretical advance involved subsuming old theories under new ones, and
this required meaning invariance “ that is, that the terms had the same
meaning in both theories. Feyerabend argued that they did not. Without a
logical account of the connection between theories, the “logical” analysis of
theory change was doomed, and soon unraveled. The “revolutions” account
presented by Kuhn implied that successive paradigms were not strictu sensu
about the same things. But scientists thought their theories were, and also
that they were advances.
MacIntyre argued that the scientists™ historical accounts, narratives of
scienti¬c change, were themselves part of science properly understood, and
that the value of a theory in science depends on, and is shown by, its role in
narratives of progress.

The criterion of a successful theory is that it enables us to understand
its predecessors in a newly intelligible way. It, at one and the same time,
enables us to understand precisely why its predecessors have to be rejected
or modi¬ed and also why, without and before its illumination, past theory
could have remained credible. It introduces new standards for evaluating the
past. It recasts the narrative which constitutes the continuous reconstruction
of the scienti¬c tradition. (MacIntyre 1977a, p. 460)


Tradition, continuously reconstructed by narrative, was MacIntyre™s solu-
tion to the puzzle of rational continuity in Kuhn. The question of whether
“only standards to which anyone can appeal in judging what is a good and
what is not are the standards embodied in the ordinary language of each
particular group” (1992a, p. 18) was left to be solved. Whether MacIntyre
solves them or exacerbates them is a matter of dispute: Winch believed
he did not solve them (Winch 1992). There is, however, another question
that arises, on MacIntyre™s own terms, about the status of this account of
tradition in its aspect of social theory, and this is a question that may be
more fruitful. The concept of the scienti¬c tradition was associated with
Michael Polanyi, and MacIntyre was at pains to distinguish his views from
Polanyi™s. For MacIntyre, “what constitutes a tradition is a con¬‚ict of inter-
pretations of that tradition, a con¬‚ict which itself has a history susceptible
of rival interpretations. If I am a Jew, I have to recognize that the tradi-
tion of Judaism is partly constituted by continuous argument over what
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

it means to be a Jew” (MacIntyre 1977a, p. 460). Similarly for science.
Degenerate traditions, in contrast, erect “epistemological defenses which
enable [them] to avoid being put into question by rival traditions.” Liberal
Protestantism, some forms of psychoanalysis, and modern astrology are
examples (MacIntyre 1977a, p. 461). Psychoanalysis, Marxism, astrology,
all are Polanyi™s examples as well, as is the argument that “any feature of
any tradition, any theory, any practice, any belief can always under certain
conditions be put in question, the practice of putting in question, whether
within a tradition or between traditions, itself always requires the context
of a tradition” (MacIntyre 1977a, pp. 461“462; Polanyi 1958, pp. 269“297).
If we are to accept MacIntyre™s account as the best or only account, we need
grounds to do so “ grounds that rule out rivals, or show their inferiority. In
the smaller intellectual space of theories of tradition, there are alternatives,
and MacIntyre has a case against them. To understand the case we must
understand the rivals. Polanyi, according to MacIntyre, erred because
he does not see the omnipresence of con¬‚ict “ sometimes latent “ within
living traditions. It is because of this that anyone who took Polanyi™s view
would ¬nd it very dif¬cult to explain how a transition might be made from
one tradition to another or how a tradition which had lapsed into incoher-
ence might be reconstructed. Since reason operates only within traditions
and communities according to Polanyi, such a transition or reconstruction
could not be a work of reason. It would have to be a leap in the dark of some
kind. (MacIntyre 1977a, p. 465, emphasis in the original)
Natural science can be a rational form of enquiry if and only if the writing
of a true dramatic narrative “ that is, of history understood in a particular
way “ can be a rational activity. Scienti¬c reason turns out to be subordinate
to, and intelligible only in terms of, historical reason. (MacIntyre 1977a,
pp. 464)

Michael Oakeshott™s “Rationalism in Politics” was published in 1948.
It is striking that the example of Stoicism was discussed, in largely the
same terms and in the same way as MacIntyre, by Oakeshott in the late
twenties (Cowling 1980, p. 253). Michael Polanyi published Science, Faith
and Society in 1946, Personal Knowledge in 1956, and in between published
a stream of articles and commentary. T. S. Eliot™s Christianity and Culture
(1949) defended a notion of the European tradition as essentially Christian.
One of the major themes of several of these works was the rehabilitation of
the contribution of medieval Catholicism to the forming of this tradition.
Christopher Dawson, editor of the Dublin Review, wrote The Making of
Christian Europe (1932) and engaged closely with the London scene. Even

such ¬gures as Popper were brie¬‚y caught in this current. His paper
“Towards a Rational Theory of Tradition” appeared in 1949.
MacIntyre™s comments on this tradition are infrequent but interesting,
and they cluster in the late seventies though Popper™s article was mentioned
in 1962 (MacIntyre 1977a, pp. 465“466, 468; 1978b, pp. 26“27). He had
been caustic about Polanyi, whom he considered to be a Burkean, a term
MacIntyre used to designate a kind of conservatism that was the intellectual
analogue of Stalinism “ a concept of tradition that was closed and “unitary.”
One may observe that this comment is misplaced as applied to Polanyi, who
made the point that the relevant cultural ideal was “a highly differentiated
intellectual life pursued collectively” (Polanyi 1962, p. 219), “a continuous
network “ of critics” (Polanyi 1962, p. 217). Similarly for the tradition of
tradition as a whole: T. S. Eliot argued that too much unity was a bad thing
(Eliot 1949, p. 131). Oakeshott would have argued that the notion of closure
as applied to tradition is a capitulation to the French Revolution™s notion
of tradition that the tradition tradition rejects. Indeed, it may be the case
that the notion of unity in this tradition is weaker than MacIntyre™s own.
Others have pursued the question of the similarity between MacIntyre™s
concept of tradition and its rivals (for example, Flett 1999“2000). The more
pressing question is one of method. Given that there are rivals, and that at
least one of these rivals, MacIntyre™s, presents itself as not only different but
superior, how are we to assess this claim? Here we come to a small puzzle.
MacIntyre himself employs a variety of standards, depending on what sort
of claim is being assessed, and in his relatively rare remarks on alternative
concepts of tradition there are two kinds of argument. One, to which I will
return, is an identi¬cation that excludes alternatives. The other is to assess
the theory, as any other theory in science or social science is assessed, to see
whether it accounts adequately for the appearances it is designed to account
for without adding too much problematic baggage.
The concept of practices (for example, in After Virtue, pp. 187“203) is
a straightforward example of a theoretical deployment: it is a theoretical
entity posited to account for various features of human activity. It is sup-
ported by its consilience with other things that are known about human
activity, with what is known about human psychology, and so forth. We
can ask the usual questions about these theoretical entities in the usual way.
These are not, for MacIntyre, questions from outside. His own writings,
from The Unconscious to his writings on social science in the eighties, provide
ample grounds for holding him to this test. He argues that it could not have
been known a priori that the project of Durkheim and of positivist sociology
would fail (MacIntyre 1986b, p. 92). And this means that nothing a priori
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

guarantees the validity of alternatives, either. Philosophy is not autonomous
in this respect: philosophical doctrine can be evaluated only as contributing
to speci¬c inquiries (MacIntyre 1986b, p. 87).
It will seem like an evasion to say that an assessment of MacIntyre™s ap-
proach to tradition, or that of any of his rivals, in these terms is not a simple
matter. The problem is tangled up with some of the central mysteries of
present thought, notably the problem of normativity “ of whether there
is such a thing to be explained, and what would count as an explanation.
The problem of theoretical baggage is largely a problem relative to this.
The features of MacIntyre™s account, its teleology and its doctrine of
internal goods, which are shared with some other accounts of tradition and
constitute its heaviest pieces of baggage, are there because of it. I do not
propose to solve it here. But I will observe that a crucial kind of argument
in MacIntyre, “identi¬cation,” which leads to the exclusion of alternatives
might be taken as an alternative to the weighing of theoretical baggage, both
as an approach to vindicating MacIntyre or to interpreting his own argu-
ments for his concept of practice and tradition. I question whether this is
a form of argument at all, or at least a complete one: identi¬cation, one may
say, is never theoretically innocent. There are no appearances that we may
simply “identify,” no prerogative interpretations which exclude all others.
Nevertheless, the way in which MacIntyre makes his case, for example in
“The Intelligibility of Action”(1986a), his most complete discussion of the
traditional concerns of social theory (which has a similarity to G. H. Mead
and Charles Horton Cooley on the self [cf. MacIntyre 1986a, p. 77]), rests
almost entirely on an identi¬cation of the concept of intelligible action that
is shown to require practices, thus good reasons, and thus the concept of
the good (MacIntyre 1986a, p. 75), and to exclude such things as intelligible
action by machines, which “lack the relevant kind of history and the relevant
kind of social relationships” (MacIntyre 1986a, p. 79). He says, correctly,
that this is not a “demonstration of a conceptual truth to the effect that
intelligible action cannot be predicated of machines” (MacIntyre 1986a,
p. 79). But this claim, like the case for tradition as a whole, seems to fall
into the long series of arguments in which MacIntyre™s identi¬cations of
what is to be explained do the work of excluding rivals. If these arguments
are problematic, so is the structure as a whole.


1. One of the features of his style that is illustrated by his work on the issues of
social science as a whole is the use of the outlying province of philosophy of the

social sciences as a base for attacking the fashionable issues of the metropole (cf.
MacIntyre 1978b, p. 21).
2. Of course there are quali¬cations “ the probative force of the identi¬cations is
not absolute. It may be, MacIntyre suggests, that there are unnoticed, glandular
conditions that would validate the claim that an action was really caused rather
than rational (MacIntyre 1957a, pp. 35“36).
3. This line of reasoning has a fascinating history. The Catholic side of the problem
has recently been reconstructed by Leszek Kolakowski in his book on Pascal and
his context, entitled God Owes Us Nothing (Kolakowski 1995), which deals with
Jansenism. The phrase “God owes us nothing” cuts to the heart of the problem.
There is no such thing as cashing in on God™s promises of salvation simply because
the notion of owing does not apply to God as omniscient and omnipotent, and the
idea that we can bind God to promises in this way is absurdly presumptuous.
4. MacIntyre™s argument is this:
Weber describes this as if the psychological pressure of the need to know
if one were saved had distorted the logical consequences of Calvinism.
But in fact Calvinism and Calvin himself had always had to accommodate
the commandments to good works in the Bible. Calvin was committed
to the following propositions: 1. God commands good works; 2. It is of
the highest importance possible to do what God commands; 3. Good
works are irrelevant to what is of most importance to you, your salvation
or damnation. It is a requirement of logic, not of psychological pressures,
that one of these propositions be modi¬ed; the alternative is contradiction.
Moreover, unless it is the third proposition which is modi¬ed, preaching
and legislation on morals, two central Calvinist activities, which are also
rationally backed up by doctrine, lose their point. (MacIntyre 1962, p. 55)
5. MacIntyre returns to the problem of causality in the social realm and history in
“Causality in History” (1976). Weber™s account of the causes of the Great War,
from a letter MacIntyre does not identify, which targeted Slav expansionism as
the key contributing cause, is taken as an example of a bad explanation. The
Marxist view that the war was inevitable, given certain long-standing conditions,
is claimed by MacIntyre to be correct. The methodological grounds on which
the claim is made, however, involve a revision (and application to history) of
the account of legal causality in Hart and Honor´ (1959). The new revision is
actually very close to Weber™s own views, with this difference: Weber regarded
causal claims of this kind as claims that the presence of a given factor, relative to
a reference class of preselected factors, increases the probability of the outcome,
and thus he saw all causal claims of this type as relative to the selection of the
reference class. MacIntyre argues, consistent with this model, that the particular
cause Weber selected did not meet this criterion since the outcome would have
happened anyway, but he seems to have failed to recognize that the claim that
the reference class produced the inevitable (presumably meaning a very high
probability) result of war itself is a causal claim that needs to be warranted by
comparison to a preselected reference class, and thus misses Weber™s point: that
this selection, like all such selections, is a result of the historian™s interest, and
not given in history.
MacIntyre and the Philosophy of the Social Sciences

6. The signi¬cance of this text, which ¬gures in a central passage in After Virtue,
is pointed up much later, in MacIntyre™s interview with Borradori, in which he
discussed the in¬‚uence on his thinking of Franz Steiner, an anthropologist. He
dates this in¬‚uence, interestingly, to the early ¬fties. MacIntyre says:
[Steiner] pointed me toward ways of understanding moralities that avoided
both the reductionism of presenting morality as a mere secondary expres-
sion of something else, and the abstractionism that detaches principles
from socially embodied practice. Rival forms of such practice are in con-
tention, a contention which is neither only a rational debate between rival
principles nor a class of rival social structures, but always inseparably both.
(MacIntyre 1991d, p. 259)
4 Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy
and MacIntyrean Critique

We have to describe and explain a building, the upper story of which was
erected in the nineteenth century; the ground ¬‚oor dates from the sixteenth
century, and a careful examination of the masonry discloses the fact that it
was reconstructed from a dwelling-tower of the eleventh century. In the
cellar we discover Roman foundation walls, and under the cellar a ¬lled-in
cave, in the ¬‚oor of which stone tools are found and remnants of glacial fauna
in the layers below. That would be a sort of picture of our mental structure.1


My title and topic here call to mind both the title and themes of
G. E. M. Anscombe™s article, now almost half a century old, “Modern
Moral Philosophy” (1958). In one of the twentieth century™s most widely
reprinted and in¬‚uential pieces of philosophical writing, which gave us the
term (and the topic) consequentialism and helped spawn both the line of
inquiry later called philosophy of action and the revival of interest in the
moral virtues, Anscombe defended three principal theses. First, she urged
philosophers not to explore moral philosophy until possessed of an ade-
quate philosophical moral psychology. Second, both they and the rest of
society should abjure conducting moral discussion using the discourse of
“morally right/wrong,” of “morally ought,” of moral obligation, the morally
required/forbidden/permitted, and so on, because those terms mean noth-
ing substantive today, retaining only what she memorably called “mesmeric
force.” Third, the differences among modernist moral philosophers, much
discussed by her predecessors and contemporaries in the profession, not
least in their elaborations of C. D. Broad™s contrast between “teleological”
and “deontological” theories, are in fact of little importance, masking
agreements that, though deeper and more signi¬cant than the overblown
disputes, had gone largely neglected, unacknowledged, unnoticed, and

Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

Much of Alasdair MacIntyre™s work on ethics can be read as addressing
the matters that Anscombe had thrust into the foreground, whether or not
her work ¬gured in his thinking intentionally, thematically, systematically,
or even consciously. From his book The Unconscious, published the same
year as Anscombe™s article, through his more recent work on moral virtues,
MacIntyre has sought to help provide us a more philosophically adequate
psychology, informed, in a way that distinguishes it from most of that
by Anscombe and her philosophical colleagues in Britain and the United
States, by wide reading in social and individual psychology and in other
parts of the social and biological sciences. Similarly, his account, especially
in After Virtue, of our moral discourse as, in effect, emotive, and his view of
our talk of moral rights, duties, and so on as “survivals” that lack coherent
and accepted conditions of application, both serve to amplify, ¬‚esh out, and
defend a position close to Anscombe™s second thesis. Here too, as illustrated
by his treatment of Polynesian “tabu” in After Virtue (pp. 111“113) and
Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (pp. 182“186), MacIntyre draws on
the empirical social sciences. Finally, though today MacIntyre seldom
directly addresses topics classed under the rubrics of moral problems or
practical/applied ethics, from Marxism and Christianity through Whose
Justice? Which Rationality? he works to undermine both utilitarian and
neo-Kantian accounts of justice and practical rationality, the very accounts
that underlie the de facto consensus on normative issues that Anscombe
decries in expounding her third thesis. There she points out that both the
utilitarian followers of G. E. Moore and the soi disant Kantian followers of
W. D. Ross and Henry Prichard agreed that the goal of avoiding possibly
unwelcome consequences could justify even the most patently unjust
and immoral actions “ anything from taking for others™ use someone™s
vital organs to framing innocent parties, blasphemy, betrayal, and sexual
MacIntyre™s critique of modernist moral philosophy, for all these simi-
larities, does not at all simply recapitulate Anscombe™s. His criticism is more
detailed, deeply informed by his ties to Marxism and his reading in the social
sciences and by elements distinctively his own. Introduced and developed
over more than four decades of texts, his critical examination covers more
ground than I can hope to examine here. Instead, this chapter explores just
four themes. Before getting to their speci¬cs, I should interject some re-
marks about my aims and methods. I mean to offer a reading of some of
MacIntyre™s arguments and positions, to concentrate on articulating their
content and assessing them. I do not try to defend the accuracy of my inter-
pretations of MacIntyre™s texts, or examine the accuracy of his own readings
96 J. L. A. GARCIA

of particular moral philosophical texts from the modernist epoch. What is,
I think, more interesting is what his texts suggest to us, whether and how
those suggestions are helpful, and the extent to which they may be correct
and even insightful. Those latter topics provide my focus, and the inter-
pretive matters “ both mine of MacIntyre and MacIntyre™s of modernity™s
great thinkers “ will be treated in only cursory fashion.


At the end of After Virtue, MacIntyre pairs a striking disjunction with an
even more startling conjunction. Nietzsche or Aristotle? he asks provoca-
tively (p. 256). As signposts to his answer, he points to Leon Trotsky and
St. Benedict. What does he mean by this question and this answer? Con-
sider, ¬rst, what MacIntyre calls “the Enlightenment Project” (p. 36), which
aims to justify, in a secular way and for a secular age, retaining a moral code
much like traditional Christian morality, especially its emphasis on benevo-
lence and mercy. The project rooted morality in human practical rationality,
which it understood largely as instrumental or as autonomously legislative,
or in human nature, which it understood in a rigorously nonteleological
mode (p. 52). (Especially in the past century, this new moral approach
became increasingly forthright in repudiating traditional Christian sexual
morality.) MacIntyre thinks that this project can now be seen to have failed
and, in counterposing Aristotle to Nietzsche (pp. 109“120, 256“259) and
linking Leon Trotsky to Benedict (pp. 261“263) I think MacIntyre means
that in its wake we face only two choices.
On one hand, we can more frankly reject morality altogether, appeal-
ing only to natural passions and drives, some idiosyncratic and capricious,
some social, and some universal but wild. This is the alternative to which
Nietzsche points us. On the other hand, we can undertake the arduous task
of reevaluating and ultimately modifying the modernists™ turn against tele-
ology and attempt to reconceive morality along lines similar to Aristotle™s.
This will be a lonely task, because so many, including many intellectu-
als, have convinced themselves that, while some reforms remain to be im-
plemented, our moral order and our moral thought are basically in good
order and without need of fundamental reconstruction. MacIntyre thinks
those in his more radical project, then, will need largely to do their think-
ing within groups sharing the same fundamental standards and objectives,
while reading much more widely beyond these traditions of inquiry.2 This
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

confronts them with two chief options on how to relate to those outside: the
Trotskyan model of active, subversive engagement with the larger world and
the Benedictine model of withdrawal from it to ordered privacy. MacIntyre
realizes neither has a great chance of success in modern conditions because,
despite its self-image of tolerance, liberal society will brook neither certain
forms of challenge nor withdrawal.
In the passage I pre¬xed to this discussion, Jung uses the image of
an old house, with sections dating from different centuries and founda-
tions containing still older elements, to help us in thinking about the mind.
We could readily apply the same image to MacIntyre™s conception of both
Western societies in the modernist epoch and also the vocabulary and forms
of thought they use to conduct their discourse.3 As with the house™s parts,
the disparate provenance of the different components may not be obvious
and may have been forgotten. It is also likely that over time the ¬ssures
become deeper and the structure less stable, even if the joints are hid-
den to all but the trained eye. Thus, like Anscombe, MacIntyre has long
complained that, in our moral discourse, we freely shift from concepts of
natural law to natural rights, from obligation to virtue, from self-interest
to sacri¬cial charity, from consideration only of overall consequences to
compassion for immediate victims to interest in one™s own higher interest
and long-term self-improvement, without noticing the very different his-
tories and, he thinks, incompatible bases and presuppositions from which
these concepts and vocabularies emerge. MacIntyre thinks this modern
moral ˜order™ a mess approaching a deeper crisis of its own internal contra-
dictions, as in Marxist eschatology, and he thinks the project that hides
its messiness an exercise more in obfuscation than in its self-described
I will explore ¬ve claims I think MacIntyre makes against the forms
of moral philosophy that have predominated in the West from the time
that the medieval epoch started giving way to the modern, and especially
since the Enlightenment cemented the triumph of postmedieval forms of
thought. I neither claim, nor presuppose, nor even think that these exhaust
the intellectual bases for MacIntyre™s dissatisfaction with the theories of
Smith, Hume, Kant, Mill, and their admiring successors. Mine is only a
selection. However, I do think that the claims I attribute to MacIntyre and
examine below are among the most signi¬cant, both in the way they target
theses that lie deep within those philosophies and are characteristic of it,
and in the ways they provide grounds for several of MacIntyre™s distinctive
elements in the more positive vision of moral philosophy he developed
during the past century™s last two decades.
98 J. L. A. GARCIA

The ¬rst of these claims is that the modernists™ moral philosophies ig-
nore the dependence of both justice and moral reasoning on (fairly speci¬c)
standards and thus on (group) traditions. I call this one single part of his
critique, but it should be clear that it involves several distinct claims. First,
MacIntyre seems to reject the project of deducing substantive moral judg-
ments from the meaning of very general evaluative terms such as ˜ought™
or ˜right™ or ˜good™. This was a major contention of his early book A Short
History of Ethics, rethinking whose claims, he recently said (see MacIntyre
1991a and 1991d), was the source of his moral philosophical project since
the mid-1970s, and it animates several of the essays, especially on the mean-
ing and use of ˜ought,™ collected in Against the Self-Images of the Age: Essays
on Ideology and Philosophy (1971). Rather, MacIntyre maintains that some-
one can ¬gure out what she ought or has to do only by determining her
responsibilities within her situation.4
This might be uncontroversial when narrowly construed. No utilitarian
or Kantian thinker denies that an agent™s circumstances affect what she
ought to do. For MacIntyre, however, the way in which the agent is perti-
nently situated includes not just whether she has made any promises now
coming due or stands to help or harm many people by her choice. Rather,
it extends also to the relationships in which she stands to other people, the
roles she occupies, and therefore “ this is the second important claim “ he
thinks that it can include the expectations her society™s traditions properly
vest in them (and, therein, in her). This pushes MacIntyre™s thought to-
ward relativism, and the charge that his position is relativist has frequently
been lodged (see, for example, Haldane 1994). Below, I turn more fully to
MacIntyre™s relation to relativism. Here it is important to note that his re-
cent position requires a complex background against which any judgment
that someone ought to do something needs to be legitimated in order for it
to be rationally acceptable. This judgment must be tied to pertinent virtues,
and the virtues to what he calls “practices.” Further, because “no individual
lives her or his life wholly within the con¬nes of any one practice,” the prac-
tices and their goods also need to be brought into such harmony as to yield
coherent and potentially ful¬lling lives for the people participating in them
(see, for example, MacIntyre 1992b, esp. pp. 7“8). Finally, this ful¬llment
needs to be understood as such by some tradition of moral inquiry into
human ¬‚ourishing, which tradition is itself rationally superior to its rivals.
MacIntyre contrasts the bare, untethered moral ˜ought™, which has
plagued Western thought and confounded its philosophers from Hume
onward, with the ˜ought™-judgments of Homeric and medieval times (After
Virtue, pp. 121“130, 165“180; see also MacIntyre 1971d, pp. 143“145). In
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

those days, anyone could normally tell what a person ought to do because
what she was to do was so to behave as to ful¬ll herself as a warrior, or a
citizen, or a husband or wife, or a Greek, or a monk, or a Christian, or as
occupying some such social position. That is not to say there could not be
con¬‚icts. However, even then someone knew that, to borrow a familiar ex-
ample from the mythological tradition, Agamemnon owed it to Menelaus
as a brother, a fellow king, a Greek, to help him to regain his wife, while
he also owed it to Iphigenia and Clytemnestra to act protectively toward
his family and daughter, even if there was some tension between these two
socially recognized debts. Indeed, as MacIntyre sees it, these debts were
not merely recognized by society, but largely created by its structure and
practices, which themselves provide the moral vocabulary necessary to give
the responsibilities content and speci¬city. In this Homeric morality, there
is nothing that Agamemnon ought to do, nothing virtuous for him to be,
no projects incumbent upon him except as occupying one or another of
these roles, which his society creates, shapes, and de¬nes, and whose telos
it furnishes. This is the chief reason MacIntyre thinks much of our nor-
mative discourse, especially in morality, operates emotively. As in the past,
to be legitimate our ˜ought™-judgments need backing by reasons and thus
by practical rationality. However, unlike some historical epochs, MacIntyre
believes that, in this society and time, our rationality (that is, we, reasoning)
cannot get suf¬cient purchase to supply fully defensible grounds. Our rea-
soning lacks the social context needed to give moral judgments clear and
determinate content and to provide adequate standards for their rational
assessment. This point naturally leads into his view of the deductive gap
between factual judgments and moral judgments that Hume is thought to
have noticed and that drew great attention from MacIntyre™s colleagues
within analytical philosophy, especially in the last century™s middle third
(After Virtue, pp. 56“57).5
A second element in MacIntyre™s critical analysis of the modernists™
moral philosophies is that they so divorce what they regard as ˜facts™ from
˜values™ that our moral practice becomes operationally emotivist, with dif-
ferent factions within society arguing against others in ways that tend to turn
both desperate and self-righteous (see, for example, After Virtue, pp. 6“8,
23“25). Desperate, because each senses that (though not why) it can-
not conclusively establish its position™s correctness; self-righteous, because
each knows that (though, again, not why) its position cannot be conclu-
sively exposed as incorrect. Facts and values, as we understand them today,
MacIntyre holds to be Enlightenment inventions, designed precisely to
contrast with each other in such ways as to create between them a gap
100 J. L. A. GARCIA

that cannot be bridged. Like the noncognitivists, MacIntyre insists on this
gap and on our inability to eliminate it. Unlike them, he thinks this is not a
general logical phenomenon, but a historical peculiarity of our epoch (After
Virtue, pp. 18“19). For MacIntyre, there are no resources simply internal to
reason as such that can justify our normative judgments. Rather, he thinks
both moral reasoning and moral concepts are inherently historical artifacts
requiring a certain social context for people to recognize and employ the
relevant concepts in a clear, determinate way, and for their applications to
be rationally defensible according to accepted standards.6
A third line of criticism that MacIntyre directs against the thinking of the
major moral philosophers of modernity is that it promotes and acquiesces
in the fragmentation of the modern subject into disparate (and, it appears,
sometimes con¬‚icting) roles without providing any basis or method for her
reuni¬cation, coherence, and integr(al)ity. Here, MacIntyre™s position seems to
be that we moderns recognize elements of our plight, tacitly and implicitly
if not as such, and that we allow for it in our practical thinking, again even if
not in our theories of practical rationality. We accommodate this breakdown
in our moral discourse chie¬‚y by taking refuge in other kinds of evaluation
where things seem not so bad. Speci¬cally, we see our less controversial
responsibilities within the roles we occupy, and focus on them, sometimes
unifying them when we need to under some general and seemingly clear,
determinate, and uncontroversial managerial concepts, such as those of ef¬-
ciency, pro¬t maximization, health, and ˜pragmatism™. MacIntyre dismisses
such concepts™ claims to be either uncontroversial or useful in settling ambi-
guities or con¬‚icts (MacIntyre 1977b). They make sense only within certain
assumptions, which themselves are controverted and need support we can-
not provide them. As for the roles themselves, they are disparate, can pull
in different directions, and stand in need of some larger justifying purpose.
So, if I understand him, MacIntyre sees us moderns ful¬lling our various
roles, when we do, with no adequate grounds for thinking we are therein
living ful¬lled and worthwhile lives.7
A fourth of MacIntyre™s grounds for rejecting modernist moral theories
is that these philosophies permit, and even encourage, the subject to see
her private (and her faction™s) self-interest as pitted against both the good of
other individuals and, more important, the good of the larger political com-
munity. MacIntyre hopes to call into question and reduce the scope of, if not
wholly to overcome, the familiar opposition between the good of the indi-
vidual and that of her group (see, for example, Dependent Rational Animals,
pp. 108“109). These can be reconciled, even partially, only when the private,
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

the small group™s, and the larger community™s goods are objectively and
properly understood as interdependent both in principle and in fact. When
each decides its good for itself, there is manifest potential for wide and deep
con¬‚ict. MacIntyre™s concern here may be both theoretical and existential.
Theoretically, we cannot accurately understand someone™s welfare except
as constituted by her ¬‚ourishing as a member of some de¬nite community.
Indeed, there may be no such thing as her ¬‚ourishing except her ¬‚ourishing
as such a member. Existentially, we cannot live ful¬lled lives in the context
of the radical alienation and anomie that characterize modernity. However,
none of the totalitarianisms that have attempted to provide a larger sense of


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