Thanks for your posting, I found it very thought provoking. There are a couple of issues in your reading of MacIntyre that I would like to respond to, or ask you to tease apart. The first of these is your discussion of practices. You say:
‘Can I take it that certain activities in the field of Economics could be defined as having the potential for being a practice, and can some of these activities be extended to the City of London? If so, is it possible that the goods of excellence and goods of effectiveness can become one and the same thing?’
Whilst I am not sure if goods of effectiveness and excellence can become one and the same thing (my gut instinct says not), I am pretty certain that city trading is not a practice: that is, if we are to understand a practice following MacIntyre. In order to determine what is, and what is not, a practice we must firstly determine if the activity in question has goods that are internal (goods of excellence) to that activity. Secondly, we must understand what it is we mean by goods of excellence.
Goods of excellence are, by their nature, inexhaustible. Take MacIntyre’s famous example of chess. In chess, the goods of excellence (those goods internal to the practice) are the development of strategic nous: knowing when to attack; when to defend; when to pursue territorial position and when to concede it; when to sacrifice; and, perhaps, when to concede the game. Now, if I develop those goods in my chess practice – if I become a better strategist – there is not an equal but opposite diminishment of strategic nous in the other participants in the practice of chess. If I become a better player, it doesn’t mean that some poor guy in France, for example, becomes a worse player!
Let’s transfer this to your example of city trading. What is it to be a ‘good’ city trader? I think it is fair to say that a good city trader, as the concept of ‘good’ is understood by the people involved in the activity, is the trader who makes the most money. So money is the ‘good’ of city trading. However, in order for city trader #1 to earn money, city trader #2 must lose money. There is not an inexhaustible supply of money: city trading is a zero-sum activity where the goods involved are limited and the acquisition of goods by one participant results in a diminishment in the goods of another. Therefore, city trading cannot be a practice.
Another thing you discuss is the concept of tradition and how you see MacIntyre as advocating relativism. You also suggest that MacIntyre does not allow the possibility for traditions to fuse and synthesize into a new tradition. I think you are right, in a way, on both accounts – though I think MacIntyre would not be overly worried by the accusations you make.
Why do I say this?
Because I think you and MacIntyre have different understandings of what traditions are. When he uses the word tradition in the context of the conflict between Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, MacIntyre is not talking about the traditions of ‘we go to mass and you guys go to service’ or ‘we support Glasgow Celtic and you guys support Glasgow Rangers’. Rather, he is taking about ‘rational’ traditions – the way in which reasoning takes place. In order for a tradition to be a tradition, it must have a clearly defined way of reasoning out its conceptualizations of the ultimate good – what is the ideal state of being for a human to become. Now, different traditions only become interesting for MacIntyre when they develop epistemological crises – issues that cannot be satisfactorily reasoned out whilst adhering to the rules of rationality as defined by that tradition – or when two traditions that have different conceptualizations of the ultimate good, come into conflict.
In the case of epistemological problems, there is no opportunity for traditions to fuse and synthesize, because the tradition with the ability to overcome the epistemological crises is the winner and it supplants the former tradition. The best example MacIntyre gives for this is the collision of the geocentric tradition in physics with the heliocentric tradition. There could only be one winner. Why? Because the heliocentric tradition was able to reason out all the epistemological crises that had arisen in the studies of physics that utilized the geocentric model. In fact, so rationally superior was the heliocentric model that it was able to explain to the adherents of geocentrism WHY their crises had arisen and WHY they had been unable to resolve these crises. In other words, in a conflict of reason, the heliocentric tradition totally obliterated the geocentric.
Finally (phew!!!), what about relativism? If we have two traditions, one of which contains no rational epistemological crises and the other which does contain some crises, then it is rationally wrong to value equally those two traditions: one is clearly better at reasoning than the other. However, if we have two traditions, neither of which contain rational epistemological crises, then it is not rational to try to supplant one with the other: they are both equally able to rationalize – they just do it following different traditions of rationality. The best course of action in such a situation is to try to understand the opposing tradition. This is what MacIntyre advocates.
As for your final point, that it should be possible to step outside of traditions, this would not register on MacIntyre’s radar as he would likely see it as an irrational (outside reason) statement – because, in stepping outside, what would you be stepping into, if not another tradition? You see, skepticism is a tradition too, with its own system of rationality and reason. Being a skeptic does not mean you abandon reason. Such a step would be like trying to step outside of language in order to discuss language from an objective standpoint: what could we use to discuss language, if not language?
I would be very interested in your thoughts on the above,