Arran Gare, Senior Lecturer, Philosophy, School of Social & Behavioural Sciences (E-Mail)  


      In Science and the Modern World Whitehead proclaimed:

Philosophy is the most effective of all the intellectual pursuits.... It is the architect of the buildings of the spirit, and it is also their solvent:- and the spiritual precedes the material. Philosophy works slowly. Thoughts lie dormant for ages; and then, almost suddenly as it were, mankind finds that they have embodied themselves in institutions.[i]

Whitehead's conviction was based on his analysis of the seventeenth century scientific revolution and its aftermath, and he further defended it through the historical studies described in Adventures of Ideas. Such a conviction is encouraging to those involved in developing philosophical ideas who, for whatever reason, have become convinced that civilization requires a radical reorientation in thought. It suggests there is reason for optimism, at least in the long term.

     But some of us are becoming impatient. Problems now confronting humanity call for a more immediate response. The global ecological crisis is a crucial case in point. It is this, I believe, that makes the practical success of radical philosophical ideas an imperative rather than an ideal. What would such success involve? What does it mean for thoughts to be embodied in institutions? How did past thoughts come to be so embodied? And how might new philosophical ideas come to be embodied in this way? To this end we need to analyse the relationship between philosophies, individual and collective action, and institutions.

     The work of Alasdair MacIntyre provides a useful starting point for such an analysis. MacIntyre has squarely faced the present problematic status of philosophy in Anglophone countries and reflected deeply on the relationship between philosophy and social life. Such reflections have led him to defend systematic philosophy and to consider the relationship between philosophy and narratives. He has argued that narratives are central to adjudicating between fundamentally different ways of thinking, and that narratives are constitutive of social life and are of central importance to ethics. While MacIntyre has not fully developed his ideas on narratives nor sought to integrate his observations on these issues, my contention is that doing so reveals the crucial missing link between systematic philosophies and everyday life. The missing link is narratives; that is, stories.

[i] Alfred North Whitehead, Science and the Modern World, [1925], (New York: Mentor 1964), p.viif.


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