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Philosophical Apology | Catholic Life

Philosophical Apology

Dear Mr. MacIntyre,

You know that I never liked your work. It was not your fault that I first encountered you through pompous “traditional” young men who had only read parts of After Virtue but still liked to cite you as evidence for the evil of modern Catholicism and feminism in particular. Once I actually began to study your work I quickly saw that they were wrong to imagine you as a champion of their conservative, I mean, “traditionalist” mentality. But in the development of your thought I saw a need to develop further. It seemed as if you did share something in common with the young men of my acquaintance: you loved to hate modernity and preached the superiority of that which was past, and thus could be understood differently (arguably more fully) than that which is still being lived.

I thought that you failed to see how judging liberalism as a philosophy today is much like judging Thomism while it was still being developed. If Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, and John Paul II could all work with the philosophies of their day, why could you only insist that the main philosophy of your time was incoherent and useless?

When I read your argument against voting I saw only the thoughts of a man so privileged to live above reality that he feels no need to  stoop to choose the lesser of evils. I did not understand how not voting could be voting against the system. After all, not voting is typically only a vote for apathy.

I did not have much patience for your talk about not talking about the culture of death. Here you were, once again pontificating on how John Paul II used a dangerous rhetorical style and ignoring the substance of the issue! Even though I was supposed to be studying your thought I was much more drawn to the talk on Catholic feminism.

I could not help but like some of your thought, after all, I accused you of inconsistency. But I had already decided that you were no infallible tower of philosophical perfection, and there was nothing more to it. Nothing, of course, other than the nagging fear that you would get me eventually. After all, there are only so many noncommunitarian communitarians out there.

And then one day I read a great post on the contraceptive mentality. It was as good of a description as any that I have seen on the topic, but instead of “bravo” my fingers were inclined to type questions. What culture has not considered children in terms of economics? How is imagining that one has a right to children a “contraceptive” thought? Are we to imagine that Popes Paul VI and John Paul II were guilty of a contraceptive mentality when they allowed that one should consider the serious problem of population growth? Or that Pope Benedict XVI suffers from an inverted contraceptive mentality since he believes that population decline is a serious problem? How exactly can abstaining from sex in order to avoid pregnancy be a sign of a “contraceptive mentality” when the complaint is that this mentality separates sex from procreation? Why should considering sex as a base instinct be “contraceptive” when it does not in any way necessitate the separation of sexual intercourse and reproduction?

And then it clicked: I was rejecting the philosophy behind this post because I was accepting yours. You were right that  “moments of great rhetorical power are dangerous.” If one seeks understanding, then one must be very careful about how one characterizes a culture or mindset. And rhetoric is, by its very nature, more useful for drawing together an army than for gaining understanding of those around us.

Blast it.

I tried to think of other areas where I could still disagree with you, but all that I could come up with was that Dependent Rational Animals was not particularly well constructed. And I wished that I could have been a grad student working for you to help you improve a few parts of the manuscript.

I have known for a while that you were right about voting. Maybe not totally right since even if the third-party candidates are not good enough one can always find some potential philosopher president to write-in, right? But in terms of practical ramifications, you were right.

And, no matter how much I make myself believe that your book on Edith Stein is merely philosophical hagiography which shows more of your story than Stein’s, I still want to read it. Because I want to know your story, and I cannot think of a better way of learning it than to read it cloaked with the life of one of my favorite Saint Philosophers.

You win, Mr. MacIntyre. Thank you for making this one-sided fight possible. It did my mind good.




3 Responses to “Philosophical Apology”

  1. Dawn Farias 09. Mar, 2010 at 4:52 pm #

    I have no idea what you are talking about!! :) But I’m so thrilled that a normal person blogger could have opened your eyes to something. How thrilling. And yes, good rhetoric can be blinding. I’m not smart enough myself to see through it. 😉

  2. Sarah 09. Mar, 2010 at 7:49 pm #

    Ha! I “read” After Virtue as part of a class called “Foundations of Justice”. It was unfortunate that I found it mostly incomprehensible, since I had to give a presentation on it. I’m glad you are able to make sense of it all. :)

    • Rae 11. Mar, 2010 at 11:43 am #

      I never would have gotten through it if it weren’t for a professor who worked through MacIntyre with me for a semester. So I only had to talk a bit about what I thought was most important and then the prof would tell me everything I got wrong. 😀

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