Published Humanitas, Volume XIX, Nos. 1 and 2, 2006

Modernity has reached a dead end. The optimism in which the modern world was conceived and nurtured has been replaced by a thoroughgoing skepticism that denies the possibility of making meaningful truth claims, especially when those claims bear on morality and religion. The irony is that this has occurred as we have become increasingly confident of scientific utterances. Thus, as our facility to grasp the facts of the material world has exploded, our confidence in moral and religious claims has atrophied to the point that we are compelled to speak of them as mere subjective preferences. From a certain vantage, this situation might appear as a stable solution to the interminable wrangling and occasional bloodlettings that moral and religious truth claims spawned. Yet at another level, such a position is simply intolerable, for it is inhuman. It is not possible to deny for long the very things for which human souls most yearn. In fact, if these sorts of claims are denied, they will invariably assert themselves in perverted and often violent ways.

The work of both Michael Polanyi and Alasdair MacIntyre contributes significantly to overcoming the problems posed by late modernity. Unlike some, they harbor no nostalgic illusions about the possibility of returning to a golden past. Yet neither do they believe that skepticism and despair (or apathy) are satisfying alternatives. Both lament the early modern rejection of the role of tradition in enquiry. Such concepts as belief, authority, and the possibility of speaking of the reality of moral and theological truths were, in the wake of Cartesian doubt, undermined and eventually dispensed with altogether. Both Polanyi and MacIntyre argue that what has come to be called postmodernism is a logical continuation of the modern project. Ironically, both believe that the way to move beyond what they perceive as the dead end wrought by modernity is a rediscovery of the central role played by tradition. Thus, a discussion of tradition will provide a vantage point from which to compare the views of these two thinkers…

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