Virtue and Philosophy: Bill Agrees with Ed

I have been meaning to write something in response to Ed’s post below. Ed makes some really important points that I would embrace wholeheartedly. I particularly welcome the point that practitioners of any form of philosophy — analytic, continental, or even (God forbid) Wittgensteinian – can cultivate either pride or humility with their work.

This point connects with one I made earlier, that Alec picked up on, about thinking within an intellectual tradition. I’m a fan of Alasdair MacIntyre (with caveats) and one of his central ideas is that it takes a lot of difficult interpretive work even to understand the claims made by members of intellectual traditions other than your own. Learning to argue with an alien tradition in a way that its own members will recognize as argument requires embedding oneself in it, learning its conceptual vocabulary, and its characteristic forms of argument. This is really hard, and most people don’t bother to do it. This idea is what lies behind my irritation with unsophisticated critics of analytic philosophy who don’t understand it and try to take it down wholesale. It hasn’t really been a major point of debate on this blog yet, but of course I’d say the same in reverse: too many analytic philosophers are also guilty of this exact form of intellectual pride.

Philosophers and theologians should assume a hermeneutic of charity when they engage with anyone, but especially when they engage with thinkers who write from an intellectual tradition other than their own. To do otherwise is certainly bad manners and likely bad philosophy too.

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3 thoughts on “Virtue and Philosophy: Bill Agrees with Ed

  1. Hi, Ed. The short-and-sweet version is that I would resist his full-blown “tradition-bound rationality” and say that there are some norms of rational inquiry and moral argument that aren’t tradition-bound in any interesting sense.

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