MacIntyre @ philcom

This page is a repository of topics and posts originally appearing at “philcom” ( but subsequently removed.

The Political Philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre

Started by Anne Julienne, Feb 27 2013

This topic aims to be the opening framework for a discussion of the political philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre, based on an excellent article at IEP (the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy) by Ted Clayton of Central Michigan University. I will reproduce in full Clayton’s opening abstract, in order to whet the reader’s appetite, but in subsequent topics, I will rely on the reader to follow the article at its source. I have coloured in purple what I see as the key phrases here:

This article focuses on Alasdair MacIntyre’s contribution to political philosophy since 1981, although MacIntyre has also written influential works on theology, Marxism, rationality, metaphysics, ethics, and the history of philosophy. He has made a personal intellectual journey from Marxism to Catholicism and from Aristotle to Aquinas, and he is now one of the preeminent Thomist political philosophers. The most consistent and most distinctive feature of MacIntyre’s work is his antipathy to the modern liberal capitalist world. He believes that modern philosophy and modern life are characterized by the absence of any coherent moral code, and that the vast majority of individuals living in this world lack a meaningful sense of purpose in their lives and also lack any genuine community. He draws on the ideal of the Greek polis and Aristotle’s philosophy to propose a different way of life in which people work together in genuinely political communities to acquire the virtues and fulfill their innately human purpose. This way of life is to be sustained in small communities which are to resist as best they can the destructive forces of liberal capitalism.

This outline or abstract will appeal – or not – to the reader, just on its own and it is to this that I will add my own commentary in the following post. After that, others might also like to register their initial response to this outline.

I will follow later with topics on each of the sections employed by Taylor.

I hope a fruitful discussion might ensue.

Posted by Anne Julienne, 27 February 2013

I am totally sympathetic with MacIntyre’s rather dire diagnosis of our present ills. Things have been like this for at least the entire last century and certainly during the whole of my own lifetime (of 65 years so far).

I’m less sympathetic regarding the call to cultivate or acquire “the virtues”. When I was growing up I soon learned that as a female the chief virtue was guarding my reproductive organs, keeping them clean ready for eventual marriage and keeping them then within the strict bounds of that union. This was what every nice Catholic girl was taught but this idea was not at all restricted to that religious milieu. If anything, it has had the potential to claim to be universal (except that the habits of certain Pacific Islanders in particular soon put paid to that). The invention of the contraceptive pill and the resultant mood of the 60s soon crushed any ambition to cultivate this ancient feminine virtue.

As a woman, therefore, I feel very ambivalent about the very idea of a generalized “virtue”, some habit of thought or behaviour that can be universally regarded as “good” or “moral”. Like many modern people, I reject the very notion almost from the outset. And yet, I can see that the resulting moral relativism, the “anything goes” culture, also has its dangers. I can see that it contributes to – perhaps even is the primary direct cause of – the current spiritual malaise and moral vacuum.

That is why I’ve decided that I’m prepared to look into MacIntyre, give him a bit of a platform and listen to what he has to say. He might not prove to be entirely right or acceptable but there might, at least, be a grain of truth somewhere in his thinking through of these issues.

At least I agree with his starting point and that seems to be enough to encourage me to proceed.

MacIntyre – #1: Introduction

Started by Anne Julienne, Feb 27 2013

This topic provides an opportunity to discuss the content of the first part – 1. Introduction – of the IEP article on MacIntyre’s political philosophy, the framework for which was announced above.

These are the opening two paragraphs of this section. The interested reader should visit the IEP page to read further:

Alasdair MacIntyre was born in 1929, in Glasgow, Scotland. He holds MA degrees from the University of Manchester and University College at Oxford, and taught at several institutions in the United Kingdom before moving to the United States in 1970. He has taught at several institutions in the United States, and he currently holds a position at Notre Dame University.

His first publication, “Analogy in Metaphysics,” appeared in 1950 when he was 21 years old. His first book,Marxism: An Interpretation, followed in 1953. Since then, he has written or edited nearly twenty books and hundreds of articles and book reviews on a wide range of subjects, including theology, Marxism, the nature of rationality, metaphysics, and the history of philosophy and ethics. For references that deal with his contributions to fields other than political philosophy, and for more detailed biographical information, see the References and Further Reading.

The following post will contain my thoughts and responses to the whole of this Introduction.

Posted by Anne Julienne, 27 February 2013

From the Introduction:

MacIntyre wants to overthrow the liberal capitalist ideology that currently dominates the world both in the realm of ideas and in its manifestations in political and social institutions and actions. He seeks to achieve this not through the use of force but by changing how people think about, understand, and act in the world.

It’s a relief to see that MacIntyre intends to use persuasion rather than coercion. However, I rather think that early Christians were determined to do things this way too. It’s not how it turns out necessarily, as later “followers” will do things their own ways, especially if simple persuasion has failed to be, well, persuasive.

Ultimately his recommendation is that the particular conditions of the modern world require that those who agree with his arguments should, to the greatest possible degree, withdraw from the world into communities where the old morality can be kept alive until the time is right for it to re-emerge.

I’m reminded here of the Sydney Epicurus Philosophy Garden (and indeed, my own humble efforts to create a special community of my own on perhaps mainly Platonic lines). The local Philosophy Garden has links with and looks to an internationally distributed interest in reviving Epicurean philosophy as a way of life based on a few simple but nevertheless ultimately enigmatic principles.

There is, I think, a similar urge among the several philosophy related meetup communities (such as New Acropolis and the Moral Perfectionism group) as well as the non-meetup communites (such as Philorum and Philo Agora). There seems to be an interest in seeking past and present “wisdom” and attempting to apply it to current circumstances. Many of these groups are atheistic in nature and do not see a “loss of meaning” as the primary problem (as MacIntyre expresses it) but more as a need to escape the heavy meaning-laden atmosphere of religious institutions.

After Virtue famously closes with a warning about “the new dark ages which are already upon us” (After Virtue 263).

This is probably as good a place as any for me to note the similarity between the title After Virtue and the corresponding title of the CBC radio series that I’m also interested in, After Atheism. Of course, the two titles refer to different sequences in recent history but there is perhaps not such a great difference in the narratives. They might be summarized simply as: First, there was virtue, then there was atheism, and now we’re wondering what comes next.

The Introduction finishes with:

MacIntyre is well aware that most of us who have been brought up in the liberal capitalist world see our world’s ideas and institutions as natural and desirable – not perfect, but fundamentally sound – and so we will not easily be persuaded that it is in fact inherently deeply flawed and profoundly unhealthy. But an openness to that possibility is essential to understanding MacIntyre.

I decided, after reading this, that I can probably count myself among those who see the current system as (somewhat but not deeply) flawed and nevertheless fundamentally sound. Or more correctly “saw” the system this way until quite recently. I have moved in more recent times to seeing things as more hopeless. The inability of the UN to do anything useful about Syria is probably the single most depressing event causing this change of mind. The growing delegitimisation of Israel, arguably the most democratic nation on earth, also contributes to my bleak view.

So, I cannot but agree with MacIntyre regarding where we are currently placed and I am open to listening to what he has to say. However, I remain sceptical that he will convince me. After all, I left the Catholic Church a long time ago, almost half a century ago, and I just can’t see myself heading back in that direction.

Still, I will try to keep an open mind on the matter.

Continue to #2: Philosophy and Society.


One thought on “MacIntyre @ philcom

  1. Alasdair MacIntyre: initial comments and discussion – PhiloSophia

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