”The key question for men is not about their own authorship; I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what stories do I find myself a part?”
This book sets out to answer two questions about the world we live in: why are the defining characters of our time - the Manager, Therapist, Protester, Aesthete - so sterile? And why are the moral disagreements of our culture so immobile, growing louder and louder but never developing?
To find the roots of these failures of modernity, Alasdair MacIntyre tracks backwards to their immediate root in the various dead ends of the Enlightenment project. Going beyond this, he seeks to understand the evolution of Western thought that the Enlightenment rebelled against. Through the works of Immanuel Kant, David Hume, and Diderot, Soren Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, he shows how the Enlightenment sought freedom by kicking the ‘irrational’ telos out of the arrangement ‘human nature/ virtuous action / human flourishing’. This has committed them (and their successors to the present day) to the attempt to justify virtuous action with its end-goal removed. MacIntyre is sympathetic to these philosopher’s intention, but relentless in his finding that each attempt fails, even by its own standards. The tradition of Western philosophy, hence our politics and our moral discourse, are broken, and, within their present channels, irreparably so. Boosters like Stephen Pinker aside, we cannot “Enlighten” our way out of the failures of Enlightenment. MacIntyre is particularly scathing about the emotivism (divergence between the meanings and usage of words) that plagues our present is the ultimate result of the Enlightenment.
And yet… many of us feel and act on the urges to improve ourselves, to act with honor or increasing skill. MacIntyre takes this instinct seriously and seeks to create a genealogy of morals that might allow us to start a new tradition capable of defining the highest good of Man, not in the narrow roles or functions of modern life, but as man. This unrepentant search for where we are and how we got here, and MacIntyre’s lack of illusions about the implications of his conclusions, gives this book a certain magnificence.