Alasdair MacIntyre, “Epistemological Crises, Dramatic Narrative, and the Philosophy of Science.”

(This essay is included in the Hauerwas volume).

To understand our own and others’ actions and lives, we must inhabit a common tradition and share a common way to interpret the meaning of our experiences and deeds. Using the example of Hamlet, MacIntyre shows our conception of life can be shattered by the deeds of others. In those situations, we find meaning only “by the construction of a new narrative which enables the agent to understand both how he or she could intelligibly have held his or her original beliefs and how he or she could have been so drastically misled by them” (455). MacIntyre sheds light on the difference between a culture’s symbolic universe / tradition and the individual’s personal interpretation of the symbolic universe. An epistemological crisis can occur if we experience something the symbolic universe cannot account for, in which case we may seek a new or reformulated symbolic universe. Or an epistemological crisis can occur if we experience something but have not yet learned from the symbolic universe how to interpret it, or if we realize we have misinterpreted an experience (like Jane Austen’s Emma).

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