In Dependent Rational Animals Alasdair MacIntyre writes:
In the context of particular practices we generally have no one else to rely on but those who are our expert coworkers, to make us aware both of our particular mistakes in this or that practical activity and of the sources of those mistakes in our failures in respect of virtues and skills. Outside of such contexts of practice, we have to rely on our friends, including family members, for similar correction. When we are unable to rely on coworkers and friends, then our confidence in our own judgments may become a source of illusion. And in order to be effective practical reasoners we do need to have justified confidence in our conclusions. That we generally and characteristically continue to be dependent on others in our practical reasoning does not mean that we should not from time to time defend and act upon conclusions that are at variance with the judgments of everybody else, including those on whose concurrence we normally rely most. Independence of mind requires this. But we always require exceptionally good reasons for so doing.” (p.96-7)
Long before MacIntyre wrote, Jesus said, “Do not judge.” Some contemporary church practice as tried to make this the central aspect of Jesus’ teaching. Is there any way we can make common sense of MacIntyre and Jesus?
The centrality of the “do not judge” command surely draws its energy from those who have witnessed the condemnation of sinners within churches. Although the practice of tearing others down is common to all human institutions, our expectation that the church ought to be different has made the judgment we do see rankle all the more. It just doesn’t fit. It’s a definite anomaly.
Yet MacIntyre is also right. Much if not all of our practical learning, whether moral or skill related, comes from others. As learners we make mistakes. We even make mistakes in identifying our mistakes as mistakes. We need the input of others to show us the right way to do the right things and to inform us when we go wrong.
Moral learning is difficult in our age. We want to think we can do it all ourselves. When faced with input from others we retort, “Who do you think you are to tell me how to live my life?” In some cases the answer comes from the self-deception of our adviser. “I know more about life, the good life, and your life than you do, so you ought to listen to me. Sometimes it’s just plain bossiness. But other times the voice of correction is from one who is more mature in the identification of the good than we are or from one who is able to see and understand our context more helpfully than we can. In such a case our pursuit of our own good entails that we listen to others and practice accountability to them.
In order to keep this practice from the reticence to judge enjoined by Jesus, we recognize that we have a mutual accountability. Within the church in particular, we are accountable to each other. As fellow disciples of Jesus we are responsible to help each other along the way. We recognize our independence in our willingness to carry through and make decisions and act for ourselves even while we recognize our dependence on others not only for a clearer view of our context and behavior, but also for achieving a common good.
On this view, our “not judging” is not a refusal to enter relations of mutual accountability, but a refusal to do so with an attitude of lording it over others, refusing to be accountable ourselves, and leaving love out of the picture.
In following this model, we also practice humility, refusing to assume that we know everything about either the good or even our own good. Rather, we learn that our apprehension of the good (for humans, for ourselves, and for the company of the saints) is discerned together. Since we are committed to that good more than we are committed to our own satisfaction, we yearn for correction when we err. Although this practice is foreign to the current American ethos, it seems like a Christian way to do things. What to do you think?