Moral Discourse in a World After Virtue: Communication and Dialogue in the Thought of Alasdair MacIntyre

Jason Hannan (jasonhannan@hotmail.com)
School of Journalism and Communication, Carleton University
October, 2009
 

Abstract

This dissertation is about the place of communication and dialogue in the thought of Alasdair MacIntyre. Although MacIntyre is widely known today as one of the most original and influential moral theorists of the last half-century, his contribution to the theory of communication remains largely unrecognized. MacIntyre’s work on ethics can best be understood in the light of Thomas Kuhn’s work on the history and philosophy of science. Both Kuhn and MacIntyre acknowledge the fundamental obstacle posed by conceptual incommensurability to the very possibility of communication between the adherents of rival and competing systems of belief. However, whereas Kuhn rules against the possibility of communication between incommensurable systems, leaving the choice between such systems purely arbitrary, MacIntyre affirms not only the possibility of communication and understanding between such systems, but the possibility also of rational choice between them. To this end, MacIntyre offers a systematic theory of communication and a normative model of rational dialogue for those suitably caught up in fundamental disagreement between incompatible moral traditions.

It has been a large part of MacIntyre’s mature philosophy to theorize about communication and rational moral discourse: the social practice of resolving differences of moral judgment. He has introduced highly original concepts that can improve our understanding and practice of such discourse. These include his concepts of moral incommensurability, fragmented moral vocabularies, traditions of moral enquiry, and the narrative constitution of moral identity. He has offered one of the most original and sobering diagnoses of the state of contemporary public debate. He has developed powerful critiques of the dominant styles of argument that prevail in such debate. He has, moreover, offered a constructive alternative to such styles of argument, an alternative that amounts to no less than a systematic theory of communication and a normative model of rational dialogue.

This dissertation seeks to provide a first account of MacIntyre’s theory of communication and rational dialogue. It is, first and foremost, a work of interpretation and commentary. Part of what I will demonstrate is that MacIntyre’s critiques of the two dominant styles of argument in contemporary moral debate—objectivism and relativism—underwrite a theoretical and practical commitment to communication and dialogue. MacIntyre’s interest in communication is by no means contextless; communication for MacIntyre is the logical alternative to failed moral theory. I will then make explicit what, exactly, communication and dialogue mean for MacIntyre. This dissertation is not, however, a work of pure interpretation and commentary. It opens with a case study illustrating the problem of intractable moral disagreement. The project moreover leads up to second a case study designed to illustrate the power of MacIntyre’s epistemic model of rational deliberation. Both case studies concern what is arguably one of the most pressing and heated moral controversies of our time, namely, the conflict between human rights and Islamic law.
  •  Announcements
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Current Issue
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo
  •  Thesis Abstracts
    Atom logo
    RSS2 logo
    RSS1 logo

We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

SSHRC LOGO