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Professor lectures on moral disagreement, Natural Law

Becky Hogan | Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Renowned Notre Dame philosophy professor Alasdair MacIntyre questioned 13th century Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas’ idea of the universality of primary precepts – morals such as honesty, the preservation of human life and respect for others’ property – at a lecture delivered to a nearly-packed hall Monday.

“My aim is to open up questions, not to secure agreement,” MacIntyre said. “I hope to leave you more troubled.”

While Aquinas’ Natural Law teaches that primary precepts are the same for all individuals and should therefore be obeyed by everyone, MacIntyre said Natural Law is questionable because it suggests people should find a greater sense of uniformity and agreement concerning issues of morality.

MacIntyre examined disparities in Aquinas’ argument caused by five types of moral disagreement – varying approaches to upholding human life, instances of torture, human sexuality, honor and loyalty and economic fairness.

“Rationality requires being together with other people,” MacIntyre said. “[When we engage in dialogue with others] we find that we disagree radically. We should treat solitary deliberation as always resulting in error. Rationality is essentially social.”

MacIntyre is recognized internationally for his contributions to moral philosophy. His published books include “After Virtue,” “Whose Justice? Which Rationality?,” “Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry” and “Dependent Rational Animals.” He has also taught at Oxford, Princeton, Duke and Vanderbilt.

The lecture – “Moral Disagreement” – was part of the Scholar in the Classroom lecture series sponsored by the Kaneb Center for Teaching and Learning.