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Alasdair MacIntyre's Analysis of Tradition



I argue that, in analysing the structure and development of moral traditions, MacIntyre relies primarily on Kuhn's model of scientific tradition, rather than (as is held by at least two influential commentators) on Lakatos' model. I unpack three foci of Kuhn's conception of the sciences, namely: the ‘crisis’ conception of scientific development, what I call the ‘systematic conception’ of scientific paradigms, and the view that successive paradigms are incommensurable. I then show that these three foci are integrated into MacIntyre's account of the development of moral traditions with a surprising degree of faithfulness to Kuhn. And crucially, I argue against the overall cogency of his account, given the disparities I pinpoint between scientific and moral traditions. My overall critique is, however, fundamentally friendly, since nothing I have to say invalidates the very notion of a moral tradition, and all I am calling for are less problematic construals of that notion.