Crafts, Traditions, and Ideologies: Relations Between Theory and Practice in the Thought of Alasdair MacIntyre

July 25, 2013 - July 28, 2013
International Society for MacIntyrean Enquiry (ISME), Grand Valley State University

United States

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Mark Moes
Grand Valley State University

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In his 1995 new Introduction to the re-edition of Marxism and Christianity, Alasdair MacIntyre wrote that the fundamental problem he had been struggling with in the earlier editions was the problem of how to properly characterize the mutual relatedness of theory and practice in philosophy, and so to develop Collingwood’s conception of philosophy as “a form of social practice embedded in and reflective upon other forms of social practice.”  He implies a circular or cycloidal relation between theory and practice, so that practices, even gestures, imply entire epistemologies and ontologies, and theories justify, modify, or create practices expressing traditions embedded in self-identity-forming historical communities.  Practices have a “sacramental” logic not an instrumental and managerial logic.  Philosophical theories, valuable in themselves, are also needed to enable us to understand what it is about particular forms of social life that enables their participants to grasp and to pursue genuine goods in their activities, and what it is about other particular forms of social life that blinds them to such goods.  Philosophy needs to take Marx seriously by tying itself to the practice of a politics of self-defense against the corrosive effects of capitalism and of state power, and by challenging the moral, social, and economic theory and practice of liberal individualism.  It has to recover some version of Aristotle’s view of social and moral theory and practice, for Aristotle’s concepts articulate the theory and practice of small-scale and local participatory communities in which social relationships are informed by a shared allegiance to the goods internal to communal practices, in which power and wealth are subordinated to the achievement of those goods, and in which participants don’t have continually to struggle against being reduced to the status of instruments of capital formation.  Aristotle’s concepts only make sense as functioning within such communities, and holding to Aristotelian insights about the close connections between theory and practice, as the early Marx did in the Theses on Feuerbach, will enable philosophical theorizing to better evaluate not only the Marxist critique of bourgeois liberalism but also the claims of Christian orthodoxy.  For all theory--philosophic, scientific, or theological--is the theory of some mode of practice, and when theories are understood or evaluated in detachment from their relationships to the practices in which they alone make sense, as has sometimes happened in both Marxist and Christian theorizing, they are apt to become ideological tools of deception.  The politics of participatory communities will be much more effective if conducted by persons able to understand and to learn from both Christianity and Marxism.

 MacIntyre’s remarks in this 1995 Introduction show us some reasons why, in the central chapters ofAfter Virtue, and throughout the After Virtue trilogy, he revived a version of the ancient craft analogy and began to re-conceive moral philosophy along Platonic-Aristotelian lines by treating it as a kind of master art/craft or Basilike techne that ranks and harmonizes the goods of other crafts.  For arts and crafts strive to realize values by maintaining close mutual relations between theoretical grasp and embodied activity.  They have internal to them non-instrumental goods, very different from the goods of wealth and coercive power, whose appreciation and recognition require hard-won virtues and skills, and bring about changes in the motivations of participants.   They are non-egalitarian and non-individualistic to the extent that distinctions must be made in them between masters and apprentices at various levels of development.  They are socially and historically embodied, so that their internal goods are common goods shared by all practitioners, and good practitioners must know the history of their disciplines.  They are realistic and non-relativistic insofar as they measure achievement by standards set by master practitioners over the course of their history.  They follow explicit rules that have emerged from a history of practice, but always as guided by phronesis and leavened by creativity, and formulated with the aim of forming those who follow them in the virtues necessary for expanded (positive) freedom and increased personal (but non-manipulative) power in their practice.

Confirmed Keynote Speakers

Kenneth Sayre, Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

Title: Roots of Aristotle’s Virtue Theory in Plato’s Statesman

Professor Sayre received a PhD at Harvard in philosophy and spent two years working at M.I.T. before coming to Notre Dame in 1958.  Apart from visiting appointments at Oxford, Cambridge, and Princeton, he's been at ND ever since.  He has taught and published in various areas, including theory of knowledge, philosophy of artificial intelligence, and Plato.  Since the mid-1970’s, he has been increasingly occupied with environmental issues.

David Solomon, Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame

Title: TBA

David Solomon is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame, where he has taught since 1968. Professor Solomon has held research fellowships at Oxford University (1972-73, 1982-83, 1988-89), Boston University (1975-77) and Baylor University (1994-95). His research interests are focused on issues in contemporary moral philosophy with a special interest in medical ethics. His videotaped lectures, Ethics in the 20th Century, are included in the Great Teacher's Series.

Ruth Groff, Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University

Title:  An Aristotelian Approach to Marx’s Labor Theory of Value

Ruth Groff teaches political thought, critical theory and the history of philosophy at Saint Louis University.  Her work cuts across a range of specializations in philosophy and social-political thought. Her most recent book is on agency, and is called Ontology Revisited: Metaphysics in Social and Political Philosophy(2012).  She has also just co-edited (with John Greco) a volume entitled Powers and Capacities in Philosophy: The New Aristotelianism.

The academic convener is Mark Moes (ISME member) (email:

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