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Alasdair MacIntyre on the claims of philosophy

Alasdair MacIntyre, 5 June 1980

Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature 
by Richard Rorty.
Blackwell, 401 pp., £12.50, May 1980, 0 631 12961 8
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The Claim of Reason: Wittgenstein, Skepticism, Morality and Tragedy 
by Stanley Cavell.
Oxford, 511 pp., £12.50, February 1980, 0 19 502571 7
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Philosophy As It Is 
edited by Ted Honderich and Myles Burnyeat.
Pelican, 540 pp., £2.95, November 1979, 0 14 022136 0
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... The concerns of academic philosophy are to some degree the concerns of everybody. At the same time, they often appear to plain pre-philosophical men and women – including those perhaps not so plain persons who are professors of English or History or Physics – as vaguely ludicrous. On the one hand, academic philosophy is centrally concerned with such all-pervasive concepts as those of truth, rationality and goodness: and who, whether in other academic disciplines or in the transactions of everyday life, can disown an implicit commitment, at the very least, to some view of what rational justification consists in, and of what constitutes sound evidence for a belief, and who, consequently, can avoid admitting to a certain vulnerability to the conclusions of professional philosophers on these matters? Yet, on the other hand, the level at which academic philosophers treat these questions often appears to outsiders – including some philosophers themselves in their off-duty moments – as disturbingly abstract and unrealistic ...
Western Political Thought in the Face of the Future 
by John Dunn.
Cambridge, 120 pp., £8.50
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... A few years ago there was a vogue in the social sciences for a certain type of real-life experiment. Experimental subjects were, for example, coached to exhibit the symptoms of psychiatric disorders and then presented themselves for admission to mental hospitals: could the psychiatrists tell which were the fake patients and which were the real ones? Some school-teachers were falsely informed that certain of their new pupils had high IQ scores: could the teachers tell which were the children with genuinely high scores from those about whom the information was false, what was the effect on their treatment of the children, and more important, the effect on the children? A skilled actor pretended to be a visiting professor and delivered a lecture on a subject of which he knew nothing and his academic audience was invited to evaluate it, to see if they could tell nonsense from sense in a subject other than their own ...

The Idea of America

Alasdair MacIntyre, 6 November 1980

Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence 
by Garry Wills.
Athlone, 398 pp., £12.50, September 1980, 0 485 11201 9
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... Garry Wills has two distinct aims in this book. He wishes to demythologise American beliefs about the Declaration of Independence in order to discredit the view that the United States is founded upon an idea, upon a set of moral beliefs. In so doing, he is trying to refute, not only external commentators such as G.K. Chesterton, who wrote that ‘America is the only nation in the world founded upon a creed,’ but more importantly a central American tradition whose hero and spokesman is Lincoln ...

John Stuart Mill’s Forgotten Victory

Alasdair MacIntyre, 16 October 1980

An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy 
by John Stuart Mill, edited by J.M. Robson.
Routledge, 625 pp., £15.95, February 1980, 0 7100 0178 9
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... It is a long time​ now since any undergraduate class used Mill’s An Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, first published in 1865, as a set text. But it has happened. George Santayana, who graduated from Harvard College in 1886, has described in Persons and Places the teaching of Francis Bowen: But Harvard possessed safe, sober old professors also and oldest of all, ‘Fanny’ Bowen ...

Strangers

Alasdair MacIntyre, 16 April 1981

Modern French Philosophy 
by Vincent Descombes, translated by Lorna Scott Fox.
Cambridge, 192 pp., £14.50, January 1981, 0 521 22837 9
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... It is no secret that philosophy as it is taught and studied at UCLA or Princeton or Oxford is very different from philosophy as it is understood at Paris or Dijon or Nice. An intellectual milieu in which the household names include those of Quine, Strawson, Davidson and Kripke is unlikely to have much in common with one where Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze and Derrida are taken with great seriousness ...

Dr Küng’s Fiasco

Alasdair MacIntyre, 5 February 1981

Does God exist? 
by Hans Küng, translated by Edward Quinn.
Collins, 839 pp., £12, November 1980, 0 00 215147 2
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... When the name of a present-day Catholic theologian becomes familiar to the larger reading public, it is rarely because of his theology. Most often it is because he has been made vivid as a character in one of those miniature scenarios about religion which still fascinate the ostensibly secularised mind. Jean Daniélou’s fine book on the doctrine of the Trinity passed largely unnoticed: his death in circumstances which suggested that there might be a scandal to be unearthed secured the immediate attention of journalists all over the world ...

Good for nothing

Alasdair MacIntyre, 3 June 1982

Iris Murdoch: Work for the Spirit 
by Elizabeth Dipple.
Methuen, 356 pp., £12.50, January 1982, 9780416312904
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... Philosophy, religion, science,’ wrote D.H. Lawrence, ‘they are all of them busy nailing things down ... But the novel, no ... If you try to nail anything down, in the novel, it either kills the novel, or the novel gets up and walks away with the nail!’ Hence Lawrence’s conclusion that only the novel can now do for us what philosophy once aspired to do: Plato’s Dialogues were queer little novels ...

Public Virtue

Alasdair MacIntyre, 18 February 1982

Explaining America: The ‘Federalist’ 
by Garry Wills.
Athlone, 286 pp., £14.50, August 1981, 0 485 30003 6
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James McCosh and the Scottish Intellectual Tradition 
by David Hoeveler.
Princeton, 374 pp., £13.70, June 1981, 0 691 04670 0
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... When the Scottish radical lawyer, Thomas Muir, was tried before the infamous Lord Braxfield in 1793, he declared that if what he had advocated was treasonable, then Plato, Harrington and David Hume were equally guilty. To the present-day student of Hume, Muir’s inclusion of him in his catalogue of reformers must appear even odder than his appeal to Plato: for Hume is usually and rightly portrayed as a consistent defender of the 18th-century Hanoverian status quo ...

Ayer, Anscombe and Empiricism

Alasdair MacIntyre, 17 April 1980

Perception and Identity: Essays presented to A.J. Ayer with his replies to them 
edited by G.E. MacDonald.
Macmillan, 358 pp., £15, December 1979, 0 333 27182 3
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Intention and Intentionality: Essays in Honour of G.E.M. Anscombe 
edited by Cora Diamond and Jenny Teichmann.
Harvester, 205 pp., £16.95, December 1979, 0 85527 985 0
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... Locke, Berkeley and Hume were three very different philosophers with very different preoccupations, modes of argument and attitudes towards the world. But by the middle of the 19th century it had become the custom to view them as the successive representatives of a single empiricist tradition. It is the English rather than the British who excel in the invention of traditions ...

Modernity

Bernard Williams, 5 January 1989

Whose justice? Which rationality? 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Duckworth, 410 pp., £35, March 1988, 9780715621981
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... In a previous book, After Justice, which came out in 1981, Alasdair MacIntyre claimed that the ideas of justice available in the modern world are like a pile of ruins, historical fragments that can make no coherent sense. Politicians, reformers, administrators, appeal in a haphazard way to items in this deposit ...

Can the virtuous person exist in the modern world?

Jonathan Lear: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Virtues, 2 November 2006

The Tasks of Philosophy: Selected Essays, Vol. I 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Cambridge, 230 pp., £40, June 2006, 0 521 67061 6
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Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays, Vol. II 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Cambridge, 239 pp., £40, June 2006, 0 521 67062 4
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... objective truth, that truth is a superstition we no longer need and would be better off without. Alasdair MacIntyre’s original volume of selected essays, published 35 years ago, had the title Against the Self-images of the Age. The idea that we can live without truth is the current self-image he has set himself against. ...

Grounds for Despair

John Dunn, 17 September 1981

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory 
by Alasdair MacIntyre.
Duckworth, 252 pp., £24, July 1981, 0 7156 0933 5
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... is evidently with Anthelia. There is nonetheless some force to Mrs Pinmoney’s reply. What makes Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue such an exciting book is the intensity with which he feels the weight of each side in this dialogue, the claims of moral aspiration and the dottily anachronistic and unreal quality of most of such aspiration in the ...

By the Roots

Jeremy Waldron, 9 February 1995

The Anatomy of Anti-Liberalism 
by Stephen Holmes.
Harvard, 330 pp., £23.95, November 1993, 0 674 03180 6
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... chosen by Stephen Holmes for dissection in his Anatomy. The others are Carl Schmitt, Leo Strauss, Alasdair MacIntyre, Christopher Lasch and Roberto Unger. To choose Maistre as one’s point of departure is to set a provocative, not to say lurid tone. There are occasions when he can sound as reasonable in his critique of the Revolution or the ...

Not Just Yet

Frank Kermode: The Literature of Old Age, 13 December 2007

The Long Life 
by Helen Small.
Oxford, 346 pp., £25, December 2007, 978 0 19 922993 2
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... beginning, a middle and an end ‘there would not be subjects of whom stories could be told.’ So Alasdair MacIntyre; but Small does not agree. As she remarks, few lives have the aesthetic dimensions of literary narratives. Nevertheless she asks whether stories can make some contribution to the debate, and analyses Saul Bellow’s Ravelstein to find ...

The Right Stuff

Alan Ryan, 24 November 1994

The Principle of Duty 
by David Selbourne.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 288 pp., £17.99, June 1994, 1 85619 474 4
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... hostility, in the present intellectual climate, to liberal individualism. This takes many guises: Alasdair MacIntyre has always been an anti-liberal and an enemy of the Enlightenment, though he has changed his positive allegiances a good deal; Michael Sandel, like Charles Taylor and Pope John Paul II, makes a great thing of ‘identity’. They stress ...

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