Religious Studies Faculty Publications

Document Type

Encyclopedia Entry

Publication Date


Publication Source

The Colossian Forum on Faith, Science and Culture


The term “tradition-based rationality” derives from the works of Alasdair MacIntyre. Human reasoning, argued MacIntyre, is both tradition-constitutive and tradition-constituted. By the first phrase, he means that all reasoning, especially moral reasoning (i.e., thinking about what “good” means), involves people sharing a conceptual language (rather than a natural language like English or Chinese).

For example, think of how widely three persons may differ on their use of the word “good” when applied to their jobs. The driver of a beer truck will claim his job is “good” because he is paid well; he is resoundingly welcomed wherever he goes; and he has predictable hours, time off, perhaps even pension benefits and discount on beer. In contrast, imagine a woman who has surrendered a lucrative upper management job to become the coordinator of tutoring and after-school programming in an urban school district. The job is tough, the hours are long, and the pay is poor. But she insists, “I have a good job.”

In strong contrast with both of these stands Mother Teresa, whose “job” neither paid well nor, truth be told, made predictable differences in the lives of the dying lepers whom she hugged (sometimes yes, sometimes no; hard to tell). Still, Mother Teresa would also insist on having a “good” job.

One learns a conceptual language not by reading a dictionary but by immersion in a way of life.

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The Colossian Forum

Place of Publication

Chicago, IL

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