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Faith and Reason: Reflections on MacIntyre's ‘Tradition-constituted Enquiry’

  • Ian Markham (a1)


The problem at the heart of the faith/reason relationship can be set out as follows. Faith implies total commitment whilst reason requires a certain detachment. One cannot be totally committed yet rationally detached at the same time. Therefore faith and reason are two mutually exclusive approaches to religion. Alasdair MacIntyre in Whose Justice? Which Rationality? has offered a very interesting perspective on this problem. He has argued, albeit indirectly, that this faith/reason question is a modern problem generated by a certain set of liberal and relativist presuppositions. This paper will summarize Maclntyre's contribution to the discussion, and then point to some of the inadequacies of his account. I will be arguing that commitment to a tradition is largely justified by internal explanations for disagreement. Faith seems to need an intolerant explanation for different traditions. Therefore, MacIntyre is, in fact, handling liberalized forms of the traditions. By tackling MacIntyre's work from the faith/reason angle, I hope to show certain more fundamental problems with his work.



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1 MacIntyre, Alasdair, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (London: Duckworth 1988), p. 389.

2 Ibid. p. 355.

3 Ibid. p. 361.

4 Ibid. p. 362.

5 Ibid. p. 375 ff.

6 Ibid. p. 366.

7 MacIntyre, A.. Whose Justice?, p. 7.

8 Some of these arguments can be found in the work of Gadamer. See Truth and Method (London: Sheed and Ward, 1975).

9 This concentrates on orthodox religious traditions, although there are some broader political and philosophical applications. Much of the argument is originally developed in my article, World Perspectives and Arguments: Disagreements about Disagreements’, The Heythrop Journal, 01 1989.

10 Aquinas, St Thomas, Summa Theologiae, vol. 32, 2a2ae, question 10, article 8. Translated by Gilby, Thomas (London: Eyre and Spottiswood, 1975).

11 Commitment, in my judgement, is the major element involved in faith. However, faith will involve many practices, such as worship, which express this commitment and cannot simply be reduced to commitment. This paper, however, is concentrating on the problem of commitment and reason.

12 See my article, World Perspectives’, The Heythrop Journal, January 1989.

13 Professor K. Ward suggested this term.

14 I am especially grateful for the criticisms of Professors Ronald Atkinson and Keith Ward, and Canon Brian Hebblethwaite who all disagree with parts of the paper. All my colleagues at Exeter discussed various forms of this paper with me, however, Dr Alastair Logan was especially helpful. This paper was originally delivered at the American Academy of Religion Annual Meeting, Anaheim, California, 1989.


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