In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre develops a narrative of late modernity in which Enlightenment liberalism, attempting to construct a philosophy and a society on the basis of nonteleological reason, falls into intellectual and especially moral incoherence. The unhappy fate of the modern liberal, left with only therapists for comfort and bureaucrats for security, is contrasted with the happier situation of someone who aspires to a life of virtue in the Aristotelian sense. Yet it is not clear that this is an option today, given that classical and medieval versions of Aristotelian virtue ethics rest on a “metaphysical biology” which is no longer tenable (After Virtue, p. 162). MacIntyre accordingly offers a reformulation of Aristotelian virtue ethics in which participation in a tradition plays a role analogous to that played by Aristotle's metaphysical biology – that is to say, it gives a wider purpose and meaning to the narrative that unifies the individual life.
The idea of a tradition continues to play a central role in MacIntyre's works. In Whose Justice? Which Rationality? he develops a theory of rationality as tradition-guided inquiry, which he offers as an alternative to the untenable options of Enlightenment foundationalism on the one hand, and postmodern versions of perspectivism and relativism on the other hand. The project of Whose Justice? Which Rationality? is further developed in MacIntyre's Gifford Lectures, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy and Tradition, in which tradition, as exemplified by the work of Augustine and Aquinas, is defended over and against its other two rivals.
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