The present study aims to argue for the relevance of MacIntyre’s reconception of tradition under the influence of Aristotle’s emphasis on the human virtues and the metaphysics of Thomas Aquinas in which these virtues gain a theistic dimension. In the light of the Aristotelian-Thomistic perspective, we can best appreciate his position on the development of what he called the Enlightenment Project. In his critique of modernity, he attributes the degradation of moral discourse in the Western world, namely, the basis of its conception of rationality and failure to reach the ends that it proposes for itself.
In response to this crisis, he believes that “[…] It is from the standpoint of a Thomistic Aristotelianism […] that the problems of philosophy, and more particularly of moral philosophy, can best be articulated.” The Enlightenment project has failed us and subsequently fragmented our moral discourse due to its rejection of the mode of rationality that previously guided moral inquiry based on tradition. The notion and understanding of the virtues has been deformed and deprived of teleology, the kind that Thomism has emphasized by raising the Aristotelian concept of telos to the level of Christian theism. For MacIntyre, the thought of Thomas Aquinas ultimately holds the key to our moral discourse, providing – as we shall see – the necessary resources for the resolution of tensions and conflicts between rival and opposing traditions.
In this regard, Aquinas’ mode of thought reflects most especially the inner dynamic of the rationality of tradition with the capability of repairing the partiality of singular traditions and placing them into a more comprehensive worldview.
In increasingly multicultural societies, disagreement and conflicts within traditions and between traditions are inevitable and must not be totally suppressed. Indeed, they can be understood in a positive way, emphasizing the need to appreciate the dynamic and transformable character of – historical – traditions. Members of these traditions effectively embrace them as part of their life and their existence; in fact, their identity and life meaning are only discovered through the knowledge of their own tradition. By acknowledging the rationality of tradition, we may hope that an attitude of cultural tolerance and respect for divergent traditions can emerge.
The first stage of this project explores the definition of MacIntyre’s fundamental philosophical concepts i.e., the notion of tradition, practice, virtue, and narrative, as used in his works in explaining his thoughts as a reaction to the loss of tradition and a search for a new way of resolving the non-teleological approach to moral discourse. They serve as the perception screen through which MacIntyre sees modernity and hold the banner in the development of his virtue theory. Situating moral discourse in a socio-cultural environment at a given time in history, he believes that human beings relate to each other through narrative and participation in a common history. Tradition is a continuing process in search of a narrative unity conjugating varied views that emerge from within, that is, tradition is a long argument that seeks to retain its rational coherence. This study will further examine MacIntyre’s philosophical concepts of practice, virtue, and tradition as a narrative in history and why he thinks that virtue and tradition should not be separated in a moral discourse on human nature.
The second stage of this study examines MacIntyre’s journey through the Western tradition to establish where his own moral discourse originates and what he wishes to recuperate from the past. It also presents MacIntyre’s criticism of the Enlightenment project and addresses the Aristotelian and Augustinian rivalry and their different starting points. Then we shall proceed to evaluate Thomistic influence on MacIntyre against the background of his views on Marxism and Christianity. We shall, therefore, discuss the link between Aristotelianism and Marxism in MacIntyrean discourse and his return to Christianity.
The third stage of this project will address the central views of MacIntyre on Thomism and the basic reasons why he thinks that the strategy conceived by Aquinas to resolve the medieval crisis provoked by the Aristotelian challenge to the dominance of Augustinianism, is useful in confronting incoherencies of modern moral discourse. We shall consider his radical critique of modernism and the whole Enlightenment project, establishing why he thinks modern moral discourse is in decadence and why he is different from other modernists like Kant.
Stage four explores MacIntyre’s core ethical discourse on rationality of tradition as distinct from other philosophers at his time. Each tradition has its own internal rational justifications and conceptions of rationality in its psycho-social and historical context. For the differences between the various rationalities within and between traditions – the capacity to overcome epistemological crises – establish the superiority of one rationality over another. The resolution of conflicts between rival traditions only occurs when the rationalities within the traditions are brought into evidence and this is what the fourth stage will establish. It will also establish that efforts by rival traditions such as Encyclopedists and Nietzschean genealogists are meant at overcoming their rivalries. His position as defended on the need for human inter-dependency will be established.
The final stage of this study endeavours to examine the extent to which this MacIntyrean rehabilitation of tradition is applicable to sub-Saharan Africans and their understanding of tradition. We shall see the relevance of the integration of MacIntyre’s ethico-philosophical discourse on rationality of tradition in a West African context, and in particular that of Ghana. In the course of our reflection, we shall pay a brief but critical attention to the “West African” concept of community, society, harmony, morality, and “African” worldview as a whole with references to some African and sub-Saharan African philosophers and their opinions on African philosophy, traditions and culture. Our final hope is to present MacIntyre’s Thomistic perspective on the rationality of tradition as challenging and innovative in the context of our increasingly globalised world.