Alasdair MacIntyre and F. A. Hayek on the Abuse of Reason
By Brandon Harnish
This article appeared in the Fall 2010 issue of The Independent Review

MacIntyre and Hayek, starting from very different political, philosophical, and religious viewpoints, conclude that the Enlightenment’s misunderstanding of rationality has sent the West in the wrong direction. For MacIntyre, that false road leads to emotivist ethics and nihilism, whereas for Hayek it leads to social engineering and serfdom.


In After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (2007), Alasdair MacIntyre offers a “disquieting suggestion.” He asks the reader to imagine that a catastrophe has beset the natural sciences. All scientists, all science books, and all laboratories have been destroyed. Whatever bits of knowledge are left must be pieced together in fragments. Scientific discourse continues, but only as a shell of its previous state. There is no context or coherence to any of it, and no one quite recognizes the disorder because the philosophies of the day cannot spot it. What purpose does this parable serve? To MacIntyre, the chaotic state of science in this imaginary world is analogous to the state of moral discourse in the actual world. He sees the history of moral discourse in the same way that the history of science appears in the analogy: first, a state of order; second, a catastrophe; and third, a continuing...

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