Rethinking liberalism: A comparative study of the moral and political philosophies of John Dewey and Alasdair MacIntyre
Liberal democracy is the most prevalent political paradigm in the Western world. In my dissertation, I examine the contribution that John Dewey (1859–1952) and Alasdair MacIntyre (1929– ), both critical of contemporary liberalism, have to make to our understanding of this paradigm. This project attempts to answer a two-part question: What is wrong with contemporary liberalism and who, between Dewey and MacIntyre, offers a better prescription for its ills? My answer to this question is worked out over three chapters. In chapter one I examine the divergent genealogies of contemporary liberalism offered by Dewey and MacIntyre. I find that Dewey and MacIntyre are not opposed to liberalism as such. Rather, both are extremely critical of a particular form of liberalism; namely, that version which cultivates laissez faire individualism. In chapter two I provide a thorough examination of their understandings of human individuality and conditions which allow for human flourishing. This analysis shows that Dewey and MacIntyre do not fit neatly into the category of communitarian or contemporary liberal. I argue that they are cultivating an unconventional vision of individualism, what might be termed a social liberalism. In chapter three I turn to those points where the moral and political theories of Dewey and MacIntyre are clearly at odds. An analysis of their conceptions of teleology and social inquiry highlights the disparity. In the end, I side with Dewey. I conclude that Dewey's self-correcting, experimental inquiry is more ameliorative and effectual than MacIntyre's Thomistic tradition-guided inquiry and thus stands as a better preliminary prescription for the ills of contemporary liberalism.