Imagine a world, Alasdair MacIntyre insists at the inception of After Virtue, where the sciences are renounced by the public and sentenced to obliteration. Following this jihad against the natural sciences, the public recants its condemnation, knowing its costly mistake and attempts to salvage any knowledge of natural science, however, only fragments of the knowledge once had still remain. Like the Library of Alexandria, tremendously vital knowledge would disappear, destroyed by a close-minded world. Their attempts to find what is lost would be futile for ”nobody, or almost nobody, realizes that what they are doing is not natural science in any proper sense at all. For everything that they do and say conforms to certain canons of consistency and coherence and those contexts which would be needed to make sense of what they are doing have been lost, perhaps irretrievably (MacIntyre 1).” This is not an imaginary world; this is reality, to MacIntyre, only it is the language of morality that is lost in this “state of grave disorder” instead of the natural sciences (MacIntyre 2). MacIntyre, thus turns to an analysis of history as the only way to understand morality where he believes he discovers the very epoch where the catastrophe took place, the Enlightenment.
The Enlightenment was a time when philosophy played a central role in society, unlike today, where philosophers attempted to discover a rational justification of morality in a secular world. MacIntyre calls the project a failure, a step towards the dystopian world against the natural sciences, the very fire that burned down the ancient library of wisdom in Alexandria. This is because all the conflicting voices that proved each other wrong, that they were unable to provide the foundation they were seeking. The failure of this “project provided the historical background against which the predicaments of our own culture can become intelligible,” meaning the Enlightenment was the “predecessor culture” to the catastrophe of emotivism (MacIntyre 39). Two major schools of thought emerged at this time: utilitarianism, championed by Mill, and deontology, championed by Kant and his descendent in thought, Kierkegaard. In order to prove that the conflicting views did not cause the Enlightenment project to fail, one must prove that their theses are reasonable or that they are non exclusive meaning there is room for a median position. This essay aims to analyze both ideologies using the critiques in After Virtue, where MacIntyre successfully proves the exclusivity of both and that utilitarianism to be unreasonable, however, Kantianism and Kierkegaardianism survive MacIntyre’s onslaught of critiques. Deontology shows that this epoch was not at all the society that condemned the natural sciences, but rather was the society that brought thought and morality to a new unchartered peak.
The easiest way to prove the success of the enlightenment would be to create a common ground for utilitarianism and deontology, however MacIntyre is keen on showing the incommensurability of the two. He did this mainly by pointing out the constant criticism between the leaders. The "effective criticism of each position by the others turned out to be the failure of all", and thus the project as a whole failed. By changing into a world of “secular rationality, religion could no longer provide such a shared background and foundation,” and the failure of the enlightenment to find a common framework is what leads to the exclusivity of the two schools of thought (MacIntyre 50). This would force the argument that through rationality their can be a common ground. Where Kant argues that “any rational agent is logically committed to the rules of morality in virtue of his or her rationality (MacIntyre 66),” Mill argues that one must rationalize that “actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness (Mill