Alasdair MacIntyre, “Can One Be Unintelligible to Oneself?”

Uncomfortably, the answer is yes, unless an agent’s action can be “exhibited as part of a story embodied in that particular agent’s life” (25). Writes MacIntyre: “we are the authors of our own narratives” (28) in part, but the genre of such narratives depends on social structure (28). Until the modern age, every society had a set of social roles which taught one how to fill a role in someone else’s narrative. Social roles helped define identity: “divest me of these roles and of the identity which I have and which is imputed to me in and through them and what is left over is the most insubstantial of identities, deprived of all key relationships” (33). Different social structures will depict imaginatively, philosophically, theologically, etc. what it means to be a good father. Destroy the social role, and destroy all understanding of how to fulfill a relationship and destroy sometimes even the awareness of the relationship. The relationship, however, will remain.

MacIntyre’s most important point here is to analyze how an individual might become unable to understand the narrative continuity of his life: if he is too distracted to consider his actions (29), if his formation has been meager in equipping him to realize certain kinds of situations or characters, or if he systematically misidentifies situations and characters (35-36). Recovery might begin with contemplative examination of one’s life and with enriching the imagination.

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