1997_Benjamin_Taylor_undergraduate_thesi.pdf - Thesis for...

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Thesis for PPE Final Honours School 1997 St. Anne s College, Oxford University Benjamin Taylor ‘[W]e ought to aspire to provide the best theory so far as to what type of theory the best theory so far must be: no more, but no less.’ Does Alasdair MacIntyre tell us how to identify a rationally acceptable system of ethics? Word Count: 14,968
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2 Abstract This thesis gives a reading of MacIntyre’s attempt to identify a rationally acceptable system of ethics, critically elucidating key concepts and focussing on certain tensions in the conclusion. Chapter One shows MacIntyre’s view of modern ethics as in its own terms irresolvable and interminable, hopelessly searching for atemporal justification, and in need of history to replace reification with justification. The second section introduces the concept of a tradition which owns its history, and recasts irresolvability and interminability as incommensurability. Section three introduces conflict between traditions and the possibility of communication through crisis. Chapter Two focusses the challenge of incommensurability as the key problem of the reinterpreted situation, and shows how MacIntyre addresses the problem, arguing that communication is possible. In the second section, MacIntyre’s contextualist epistemology and rationality within a tradition are elucidated along with preliminary challenges. Chapter Three hones in on narrative as the justifying factor in MacIntyre’s thesis, elucidating the concept and challenges to it. Section two explains the positive thesis that emerges to support narrative in response to these challenges. Chapter Four continues to elucidate MacIntyre’s positive thesis, and shows how he approaches the problems it creates. Having rejected Cartesian and Hegelian epistemology and brought forward historicism as his substantial position, MacIntyre becomes vulnerable to relativism and perspectivism. The second section concerns MacIntyre’s presentation of Thomism as a type of historicism that is neither relativist, perspecitivist nor Hegelian. Chapter Five elucidates MacIntyre’s understanding of truth, concluding that he finds no new position, but substantially depends upon realism. Section two introduces the two disquieting suggestions that the normativity of grammar and rational debate requires the objectivity of realism or theis m, and that MacIntyre’s ultimate source of justification is myth.
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3 The Conclusion emphasises that MacIntyre’s suggestions disquiet us, and that an important implicit issue is that of distinguishing between temporal success and rational victory, pointing to a pessimism which MacIntyre’s Thomism denies. Section two shows that in seeking to establish his tradition-based rationality, MacIntyre cannot ignore these problems -- his grounds for preferring his solution over the current situation may be reasonable but they have no ultimately rational justification.
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