Philosophy student to professor: Can you prove that I exist?
Professor to philosophy student: Who’s asking?
I heard Rev. Kevin O’Neil of the Washington Theological Union gave a talk titled, “What am I Free For? Moral Theology in the Catholic Tradition.” The second point of his talk was in identifying “three questions to encompass the moral life and the concern of moral theology.” The first question was, “Who am I?”
I kept the paper and my notes because I was very interested that he brought up Alasdair MacIntyre here. In my notes from this first question I wrote: “Alasdair MacIntyre: if I answer question 1 differently than you, do we then have 2 different, but valid moralities?”
In other words, if my answer is that I am a creation, then I have a purpose given to me by my creator and this will inform my morality. If I answer that I am a random accident of the universe which is also a random accident, then my moral universe will be quite different.
In the opening chapter of MacIntyre’s book, “After Virtue” he presents three moral questions and opposing answers to each which conflict with one another. He shows that each of the answers to each of the moral questions are valid arguments that result from virtuous principles. Since each argument is valid according to its premises, and since each premise is based on virtuous principles, we cannot determine which answer is correct without determining which principles were the appropriate ones to begin with. He goes on then to ask, how are we to decide, then, which virtuous principles to begin our argumnent with, as the starting point determines the ending point. Should we start with mercy, for example, or justice? Liberty, or equality?
In order to answer such questions, Rev. O’neil seemed to be suggesting that we must first ask who it is that is asking – who do we say we are?
This is one way in which we find ourselves in moral debates that seem irreconcilable. We simply disagree about who we are.