Narrative, Truth, and Relativism in the Ethics of Alasdair MacIntyre
Alasdair MacIntyre advances a narrative approach to moral philosophy in which the truth in ethics is sought by means of narrating the stories of contending moral traditions. Critics often argue that MacIntyre's narrative approach to moral philosophy entails relativism because it denies objective moral truth, fails to provide a way to judge between the truth-claims of rival traditions, and/or implies that one's commitment to a particular tradition must be arbitrarily determined. This dissertation argues that MacIntyre's moral philosophy is not subject to the charges of relativism urged against it by critics.Chapter One presents some of the less controversial ways in which MacIntyre makes use of narrative. He sees narrative as the approach to moral philosophy through which action, human life, and the pursuit of the good receive their intelligibility. Considering these less problematic applications of narrative helps to show what MacIntyre means by narrative. Doing so also provides a foil to his more controversial use of narrative as it pertains to moral enquiry.Each of the remaining three chapters considers one of the aforementioned charges of relativism brought against MacIntyre's moral philosophy. Chapter Two considers the "perspectivist challenge," the claim that MacIntyre's philosophy neither aspires to nor allows for objective moral truth. This dissertation argues that MacIntyre overcomes the perspectivist challenge by advancing a robust, realist account of truth.Chapter Three considers the "relativist challenge," the criticism that MacIntyre fails to provide a way to adjudicate between the truth-claims of rival traditions. By virtue of his theory of how one tradition can defeat another in respect to their truth-claims, this dissertation argues that he overcomes the relativist challenge.Chapter Four evaluates the "particularist challenge," the claim that MacIntyre's moral philosophy is open to relativism by not being able to provide a person outside all moral traditions with reason to commit to one tradition rather than another. While MacIntyre has not yet published a response to the particularist challenge, this dissertation argues that his particularism compels him to reject the notion of those outside all traditions. By rejecting that notion, he can successfully overcome the particularist challenge as well.
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