What is good? LO13142

William Ayers (wayers@City.Winnipeg.MB.CA)
Mon, 07 Apr 1997 12:41:54 -0500

[Arbitrarily linked to LO13105 by your host...]

replying to the "What is good?" thread:

I am now in the latter stages of completing a graduate course on Faith and
Justice, so this topic is near and dear to me...as well as timely. I'd
like to recommend (to those who are interested in finding a way beyond the
current confusion in modern moral discourse) that you look at Alasdair
MacIntyre's work Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (I have to do a book
report on it for next week, so you're my guinea pigs, so to speak!)
Despite its length, it is still very accessible, as it is written for both
academic and non-academic readers.

His basic argument goes something like this:

"Liberalism" is the enlightenment's response to the break down of
tradition. This breakdown, as so nicely summarized by Clyde Howell in
LO13129, led to the attempt to articulate standards of truth, justice,
rationality, etc. that could be agreed to by any person, anywhere.

Unfortunately (at least from the perspective of "liberals"), it turns out
they cannot agree on what these standards are. Which has led to the
conclusion that there is no such thing as universals; all is relative.
Liberal culture has since been caught up in "emotivism"--that is, liberals
hold that all moral judgements are mere expressions of the utterer's will.

The failure of "liberalism" to provide universal, non-traditional,
non-localized and therefore non-contingent standards for rational judgment
(both theoretical and practical) does not necessarily mean that we cannot
"arrive at, so far as is possible, a true account of justice and practical
rationality" (p. 389; "practical rationality" basically means ethics).

In response to the "emotivism" of modern liberal culture, MacIntyre offers
what he calls a "rationality of traditions." This notion combines both
the concept of dialogue and skillful discussion--he uses the term
argumentative dialogue--to provide a framework for rationally deciding
between rival accounts of justice.

This means that the outcome is not predetermined, and it is not simply a
matter of deciding which tradition is right and which tradition is wrong.
Essentially, it means you begin from where you are (this is what he means
by "the given" of one's own tradition...I believe Fred Kofman recognized
this in the quotation: "everything that's said, is said by someone").
Then, through continual dialogue, discussion, and debate, we attempt to
transcend the limitations of our own (both individual and communal)
traditions through successive transformation. This process involves
increased self-recognition and self-knowledge.

A couple of selected quotations:

"What rationality then requires of such a person is that he or she confirm
or disconfirm over time this initial view of his or her relationship to
this particular tradition of enquiry by engaging, to whatever degree is
appropriate, both in the ongoing arguments within that tradition and in
the argumentative debates and conflicts of that tradition of enquiry with
one or more of its rivals" (p. 394).

"What such an individual has to learn is how to test dialectically
[basically, this is the Socratic method] the theses proposed to him or her
by each competing tradition, while also drawing upon these same theses in
order to test dialectically those convictions and responses which he or
she has brought to the encounter. Such a person has to become involved in
the conversation between traditions..." (p. 398).

Anyway, this is getting too long for the format of the list, so I'll sign
off for now.

Any thoughts?


Bill Ayers, Human Resource Specialist The City of Winnipeg wayers@city.winnipeg.mb.ca

"My opinions are not necessarily those of my employer"

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <rkarash@karash.com> -or- <http://world.std.com/~lo/>