Virtue, Reason and Tradition. A Discussion of Alasdair MacIntyre’s and Martin Luther’s Views on the Foundation of Ethics

Th. D. Knut Alfsvåg

Abstract

Alasdair MacIntyre criticises the ethics of modernity as fallacious, and wants it replaced by Aristotelian virtue ethics. He is particularly critical concerning modernity’s non-contextual understanding of reason, and wants to renew the ethical significance of concepts like tradition and context.

According to MacIntyre, the modern secularization of ethics starts with the understanding of original sin in the Lutheran Reformation and its destruction of the continuity between a rational and a theological interpretation of human nature. The author, though basically agreeing with MacIntyre concerning the criticism of modernity, is sceptical towards this interpretation of the ethics of the Reformation. Luther, too, aims at a renewal of tradition-based virtue ethics, and should therefore be considered as an ally of MacIntyre rather than an opponent. In addition, Luther’s founding of ethics on the self-revelation of the unknown represents a solution of the problem of the relation between radically different ethical traditions that is better than MacIntyre’s, as Luther, without succumbing to irrationalism, demonstrates why reason does not have the final word. The ethics of the Reformation should therefore be considered as a strengthening of MacIntyre’s struggle for a renewal of virtue ethics.

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