All posts tagged: alasdair macintyre

Modernity’s Marginalization of Philosophy Makes the Practice of Everyday Life Unintelligible

We are sitting with friends at a diner or standing in line to buy tickets for a movie, chatting idly, when suddenly one of us, unable to contain himself in the face of our trivialities, bursts out with some existential question which we might later on paraphrase in polite terms as “What is it to live a human life well or badly?” or one which we might paraphrase as “What law, if any, has authority over us?” . . . And the response by those who hear both the questions and the emotions expressed through them is likely to be deep embarrassment, a strong wish to change the subject, a will to behave as if the questions had not been asked. We think: what can have got into him to talk like that? Is he perhaps having a break-down?[1] Commentators have often failed to realize the extent to which University of Notre Dame philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre breaks with Aristotle concerning the superiority of the vita contemplative vis-à-vis the vita activa. In his Politics (8.3), Aristotle famously said that “the first principle of …

Desanitizing Christianity After St. Benedict and After Virtue

It has been a year or so since Rod Dreher published the much debated book The Benedict Option.[1] St. Benedict Reconsidered Since first hearing the term “Benedict Option” bandied about on social media, I had the impression it was based upon a reading of MacIntyre’s concluding salvo in After Virtue. Whether that reading is fruitful or pernicious I leave to the judgment of others and to that of history—though I suspect, as with most things, it is neither simply the one nor the other. It has been noted recently[2], that we can read MacIntyre’s concluding observation as either a prophecy destined to go unfulfilled or an exhortation to be heeded. In the first case, he is not unlike Cassandra of ancient Troy—given the gift of prophetic sight only to be condemned to a see and speak in a world incapable of hearing and believing.[3] If we read it in the second sense, it is closer to a call to arms, a call that has been met over the past year by proposals from figures like …

Walker Percy and the Racist Tragedy of Southern Stoicism

The life of Catholic novelist, philosopher, and essayist Walker Percy was shaped, in part, by an uneasy confrontation between Stoicism and Christianity.[1] Although Percy was raised in a noble, affluent, and prominent Southern family, his background was also marked by a family history of melancholy, depression, tragedy, and suicide.[2] As Paul Elie explains, “There was a suicide in nearly every generation. One Percy man dosed himself with laudanum; another leaped into a creek with a sugar kettle tied around his neck. John Walker Percy—Walker Percy’s grandfather—went up to the attic in 1917 and shot himself in the head.”[3] His father, Leroy Pratt Percy, committed suicide in the attic in 1929. Percy remarked, “The central mystery of my life is to figure out why my father committed suicide.” In fact, wondering if he were destined for the same fate, he often referred to himself as an “ex-suicide.”[4] Not long after the death of his father, Percy lost his mother in a tragic car accident. Committed Stoic, William Alexander Percy, Walker’s second cousin, adopted all three Percy …

Alasdair MacIntyre Reads Jane Austen Reading Her Late Modern Reader

“You must hear this story,” a friend told me. “As a devoted Janeite, you will love it!” Apparently, renowned philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre was attending a panel on Jane Austen’s novels at the Notre Dame Fall Conference. MacIntyre asked a quaking undergraduate panelist, “Who is the best of all Austen’s heroines?” The panelist shuffled her papers nervously and, in her hesitation, MacIntyre stood and bellowed “Fanny Price!” The shocked panelist fell to the floor in a faint worthy of Marianne Dashwood. I realized halfway through the story that I had been there! In fact, I was a participant in the panel described. But the story had taken on a life of its own, which is why I did not immediately recognize the tale. The real events involved a fellow undergraduate panelist feeling lightheaded while giving her paper on Jane Austen’s view of proper pride with MacIntyre and the Center’s founding director, Dr. David Solomon, in the audience. After she put her feet up for a few minutes, MacIntyre inquired whether she was quite ready to continue …

The Anti-Integralist Alasdair MacIntyre

“St Paul and St Thomas Aquinas tell us how there is always more to be hoped for in any and every situation that the empirical facts seem to show.” –Alasdair MacIntyre, “How Aristotelianism Can Become Revolutionary,” 19 Along with Charles Taylor and Jean-Luc Marion, Alasdair MacIntyre is widely recognized one of the most important Catholic philosophers still working today. He recently published another book Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity that offers a restatement of his distinctive approach to neo-Aristotelian and Thomist practical philosophy. Interest has only intensified as a result of recent questions surrounding the viability and legitimacy of liberalism, questions raised by Rod Dreher, Patrick Deneen, and Adrian Vermeule, to name a few of the most prominent contributors to this debate. In this light, and not implausibly, Cyril O’Regan recently cast MacIntyre as a leading detractor of modernity, a weeper, in his programmatic essay “The ‘Gift’ of Modernity.” This characterization is not wrong but it is, in important ways, incomplete. It fails to appreciate MacIntyre’s hope, his reasoned commitment to the possibility of …

The Importance of Geographic Stability for the Church

In documents such as Christus Dominus, Apostolicam Actuositatem, and Presbyterorum Ordinis, the Catholic Church discourages parochialism, emphasizing the importance of apostolic activity.[1] At the same time, Paul VI observes in Evangelii Nuntiandi that “legitimate attention to individual Churches cannot fail to enrich the Church.”[2] His words suggest a possibility that local focus might lead, not to insularity, but to goods that extend beyond the particular community, perhaps even to evangelization and apostolic endeavor. We will examine how the practice of geographic stability can impact a community’s ability to evangelize. Geographic stability is defined as maintaining individual physical proximity to a community sufficient to afford long-term embodied interaction. This essay focuses on the American Catholic parish context and argues that geographic stability fosters two supports for evangelization: strong priest-parishioner relationships and predictability. Drawing on the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, the Benedictine experience, and findings from a study of three parishes in the Diocese of Lafayette-in-Indiana, this essay argues for a connection between stability and evangelization in two sections. The 1st section concerns this connection in terms of …

The “Gift” of Modernity

It takes just a little education, perhaps an education that involves a nod to Plato and perhaps a wink in the direction of modern French philosophy, to realize there are at least two senses of “gift” currently in operation. There is the ordinary straightforward sense of gift being something good, so that when someone uses the phrase “the gift of modernity” we have good reason to believe that modernity is being construed positively as an unqualified good bringing benefits to us that are plausibly different in extent to what was provided in the pre-modern world and perhaps also different in kind. The referendum would then be on: you could either accept or reject the claim. Acceptance or rejection might simply be an index of personality: you are a sunny type and well-disposed to the commonplace diktats of how wonderful it is for us to enjoy such material comfort and to have such a fabulous menu of choice in and through which to construct a life. Or, you are more brooding and choleric (which may or …

The Great Books Aren’t Timeless, But They Can Still Teach Us

The 20th-century British philosopher Iris Murdoch once adroitly described the pathological condition of Late Modernity. “What is feared is history, real beings, and real change,” she wrote, further explaining that we fear “whatever is contingent, messy, boundless, infinitely particular, and endlessly still to be explained.”[1] This fear leads us to desire the unattainable because nonexistent, namely a “timeless non-discursive whole which has its significance completely contained in itself.”[2] Many historiographical efforts of Modernity, most notably the Hegelian dialectic, attempt to discover or invent this timeless and coherent system and ultimately fail. Another such attempt is that of the supposedly self-sufficient “Great Books” canon which, in its Christian education context, purports to represent a coherent tradition running from Jerusalem to Athens to Rome.[3] The opposing binary option to these projects is the postmodern nihilism that treats history as just another vehicle for the Nietzschean will-to-power. We will explore how contemporary theorist Quentin Skinner does away with this binary by providing a third way, a philosophy-of-history respectful of the past and at peace with the particular and …

MacIntyre’s Philosophy of Mercy’s Clandestine Work in a Secular World

Alasdair MacIntyre is most well-known for his scathing critique of liberalism and modern moral philosophy, contrasting this mode of thought with the classical tradition of the virtues found especially in the works Aristotle and Aquinas and in communities embodying this ethos. But what is less well known is a second, but more far-reaching critique of the entire Western tradition of moral philosophy for failing to take seriously the facts about disability, vulnerability, and dependence that are part and parcel of the human condition. Overlooking this strand of MacIntyre’s thought obscures important insights concerning both his politics and the relationships between philosophy and theology in his work. What this account makes apparent is how MacIntyre offers a genuinely Christian but non-sectarian politics of mercy, an account that speaks directly to the contemporary political crisis. A noteworthy passage from Dependent Rational Animals[1] captures this second critique: [T]wo related sets of facts, those concerning our vulnerabilities and afflictions and those concerning the extent of our dependence on particular others are so evidently of singular importance that it might …

Whose Community? Which Benedict Option?

In our present cultural situation, it has become common for Christian thinkers to hold up St. Benedict as a paradigmatic example of how to navigate an increasingly secular society. This phenomenon can be traced back to the well-known conclusion of Alasdair MacIntyre’s 1984 work, After Virtue, wherein he anticipated the coming “of another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict,” who could help us to survive “the barbarism of the new dark ages.”[1] At the time, MacIntyre did not go into great detail about what precisely this Benedictine renewal would look like, simply indicating that it would involve “the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life [could] be sustained.”[2] Since the publication of After Virtue, Christian thinkers from across the theological spectrum have appealed to MacIntyre’s “prophecy” as a visionary spark for their own renewal projects. To highlight just two: Rod Dreher, well-known blogger and convert to Eastern Orthodoxy, popularized the term “Benedict Option,” and recently published a 250-page tome detailing his “strategy for Christians in a post-Christian nation.” Dreher says …