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April 22, 2007



Does Nathan hear froclown in MacIntyre? (or vice-versa)

And I would say I quite frequently find analytical philosophers hilarious.


An epistemology of tradition? For social traditions, that could be tough. But for individual families, it seems to me like most traditions are born out of habit or in honor of some important event in the history of the family. For instance, there's a tradition in my wife's family of always giving the first-born daughter the middle name of Louise. Certainly, there's no practical or logical reason for the tradition, and I seriously doubt that in this case the tradition is smarter than I am. Another tradition on my wife's side is to have a family reunion every 4th of July on Orcas island. That sort of tradition makes sense, and the date makes sense since it's a national holiday, but I don't think that people in other families could necessarily benefit from the same tradition. Perhaps these examples don't really qualify as traditions anyway, maybe they're just mere habits. What would it take for a habit to qualify as a tradition? I brush my teeth everyday (with rare exceptions), does that qualify as a tradition? Supposing the majority of Americans brush their teeth nearly everyday, would that be considered a tradition? How long would a society's members have to brush their teeth everyday for in order for the distinction to graduate from habit to tradition? And once the brushing of teeth becomes tradition, is it then somehow wrong to break from tradition by not brushing teeth when nano teeth-cleaning robots are introduced into the water supply? A more historical example is the eating of pork. Pork historically has been difficult to keep clean from disease and bacteria compared with other meats, and thus it made sense to traditionally avoid pork. But in modern times, we don't really have to worry about pork spoiling any more than other meats, and so the avoidance of pork seems less rational. Is tradition smarter than modern man in this case? I think it's pretty clear that it's not. What other traditions do we have? Everyone wears clothes, and the bible explains the reason is because Adam and Eve started to feel shame due to original sin, but surely that's not the only reason (and it most likely was not even the original reason). Clothes are a personal shelter from the elements, so it's not difficult at all to explain why we wear them. Why we wear them indoors is another question all together, and shame perhaps features prominently there. After the wearing of clothes, I'm not sure I could come up with full-fledged traditions in American society. Maybe it's traditional to start driving a car around the age of 16, or it's traditional to get shit-faced drunk on your 21st birthday. It's traditional to celebrate holidays and buy presents. There are certain courting rituals that are semi-traditional, like the man buying the woman's meal at dinner, or the man buying the woman some flowers or something. Certain common courtesies could be considered traditional, such as the holding open of doors, but a lot of these courtesies are changing all the time, so they might just be habits at this point. It really is tough to say what could be considered traditional nowadays. In the past, there were certain ways to do things, you harvested at certain times, you prepared food a certain way, there was certain lore that you tried to obey in order to effect a certain outcome. But nowadays science has taken the place of most tradition (and superstition), and if someone ever wants to know when to harvest, all they have to do is look at the relevant research done on the topic. There's no need to sacrifice a goat anymore to try to produce rain, we can just use our simple chaos theoretical algorithms to predict a chance of it raining, or even better we could just irrigate and make the chance of rain mostly irrelevant. In a way, you could say that one of the grandest American traditions is the application of the scientific method, and the grandest American tradition is most likely Democracy in action.


My father used to traditionally avoid saying intemperate things about the President, but that seems to have gone by the board in the last two years.

Val Larsen

MacIntyre had been on my shelf for several years. After seeing this post, I read chapter 15 and I think there is a solution to the paradox Nathaniel detects and finds unsatisfying. A couple of things MacIntyre says seem to me to hold the key to resolving the problem:

“It is always both the case that there are constraints on how the story can continue and that within those constraints there are indefinitely many ways that it can continue” (p. 216)

“It is clear the medieval conception of a quest is not at all that of a search for something already adequately characterized, as miners search for gold or geologists for oil. It is in the course of the quest and only through encountering and coping with the various particular harms, dangers, temptations and distractions which provide any quest with its episodes and incidents that the goal of the quest is finally to be understood. A quest is always an education both as to the character of that which is sought and in self-knowledge” (p. 219).

Now to repeat the passage Nathaniel finds unsatisfactory:

“We have then arrived at a provisional conclusion about the good life for man: the good life for man is the life spent in seeking for the good life for man...”

In theological terms, God is the telos, the definition of the good life for man. The object of humanity is to become like God: “Be ye therefore perfect as I or your father in heaven is perfect.” But no human being or group of human beings fully comprehends this telos. And since we cannot fully know our true good, MacIntyre arrives at a provisional conclusion about the good life for man—which is to seek to know/obtain the good life for man, in other words, to draw progressively closer to our true telos. Since he is writing philosophy, not theology, MacIntyre doesn’t name the final good (although his Aristotelian frame makes it quite clear what it is, i.e., the Unmoved Mover, God).

As the second passage quoted above indicates, life educates both individuals and traditions. What individuals can learn is shaped by the tradition into which they are born, but not fully shaped. Some follow one path, some another of the infinite story lines that are available within any tradition. Traditions likewise change on different paths. And people observe outcomes that grow out of the choices made both by individuals and by larger civilizational traditions. Some individual and civilzational paths end in what everyone recognizes to be failure, others in what everyone recognizes as the good. Often the failure is patent because the person or collective do not attain the good ends they had in mind in following the path but rather ends that from the beginning, they would have recognized as bad. In a church lesson manual I taught out of yesterday, Spencer W. Kimball recounts briefly the lives of two men he had known, one grounded in self-seeking egotism, the other in self-sacrificing service. At the end of his life, the selfish man was alienated from his family, considered a bore and boor by his neighbors, and generally isolated and bitter. The other man was beloved by family and friends and honored by the community. Both would have chosen the end of the second man but only one lived the life that led to that end. At the civilizational level, both China and Russia have come to recognize that communism did not lead to the envisioned end of universal egalitarian prosperity and liberty but rather to relative poverty and oppression, so both traditions have abandoned it and others around the world have learned that the promises of Marxism are false.

While the account MacIntyre is giving holds out the promise of closer and closer approximation to the true telos of humanity over the course of a life or of the life of a civilization, given our incomplete knowledge and frequent lack of wisdom, there are bound to be many detours on this path, many cases where individuals and civilizations are seduced by temptations and distractions (as the Russians and Chinese were, and as the whole of modernity may have been in important respects). But being capable of learning and persistently drawn by our true telos, there is hope (and some evidence) that humanity is learning from its experiences and unfolding new traditions and paths within traditions that bring us closer, over time, to our true end.

Mostly for good (but sometimes for ill), children are born into a tradition and involuntarily drink of its wisdom and foolishness. As humanity learns and encodes its learning within its tradition, the starting place of child can improve. And the wiser child can become the wiser man with newly emergent depths of understanding about the true ends of man. Thus, the good life of man is to [wisely, observantly] seek the good life of man, with an imperfect understanding and an uncertain sense of direction, but an ability to recognize good outcomes and to discover emergent dimensions of the good that become available as elements of the good become coded within traditions and no longer have to be learned by individuals but can be taken a the starting point in their quest for the good life for man.


I really like this MacIntyre, It is true that ethics is a matter of discovering that it is proper to do, and to know what is proper to do you have to have a context, you have to know what is your role to play in the story of your life.

However, what he does not address, atleast in this little I have read" is what about the postmodernist who rejects all narratives, or rather attempts to deny that any narrative is superior to any other narrative.

And there is a close kin to this postmodern view,which I find myslf apart of. The anarchist/iconoclast, who doesn't want to play any roles, he doesn't want to be part of a story that predates him, he wants to write his own narrative, to be author of his own life. He rejects his role as son, brother, nephew, citizen, patriot, guild member, etc. He wants to do define himself, not to be defined by others. He also does not want to be defined by his opposition to popular narratives,nor does he want to be defined by adherence to unpopular narratives such as subcultures and counter-cultures.

How is such a "FREE MAN" to act, With the total rejection of all narrative contexts, what can be his teleos, what factors define his actions. May he build his own narrative from an ecletric mixture of other narratives, no that would be like writing a story by cutting up other stories and pasting them together. Shall he simply switch from one narrative to another like a vagabond without a home, no then he is not the author of his own being, he is an obsessive reader, a critique with no talent of his own.

These are the difficulties that await the path of the Thelemite, which is to say those of us who aspire to the art of magick, which is the art of becoming author of one's own narrative.

We are entering an era in which the old narratives are breaking down. It seems that the motto of magick is becomning the motto for all. "Do what thou Wilt Shall Be The Whole Of The Law"

This phrase to me is a prophesy that soon, the "LAW" which is to say narrative context will drop out from under us and DO what Thou Wilt, is all that will remain.

This is why the practice of magick is important, it is the art of learning to survive without narrative support from others.

Luisa Peres

I suggest an article about MacIntyre's Tradition in a Polanyian Perpective, from John Flett. Two point of view which converge in many aspects. Perhaps , I'll write some more about these relation.

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