Alasdair MacIntyre, especially in his Three Rival Versions of Moral Inquiry, has frequently tried to make the case that adequate moral inquiry needs to be embedded within a tradition. In the book he makes the case by arguing that Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Aeterni Patris shows a fuller and more adequate understanding of the attempts to get beyond tradition (Nietzsche’s genealogy and the Ninth Edition of Encyclopedia Britannica) than they show of themselves or each other. I’m not going to address the details of his case here. But I want to note one point that MacIntyre frequently seems to shy away from: for Leo XIII and the Catholic tradition that precedes him, it is not the case that adequate moral inquiry must take place within a tradition. Rather, it must take place within this tradition, the universal and apostolic Catholic Church. The inquiries of the Confucians or Muslims are not significantly better, in this respect, than those of deracinated cosmopolitans like the Encyclopedists or Nietzsche.
In this, MacIntyre skirts around on an idea that endures through the history of the Abrahamic traditions: that the ultimate truth is tied to one single historical event, time, place and/or people. It begins with the idea recorded in the Book of Exodus that the Hebrews/Israelites/Jews are God’s chosen people, and continues with the idea that the single human person Jesus of Nazareth was the only begotten human son of God. The Qur’an, too, is a single set of revelations made in a small geographic area to one human person, not adequately translatable (so the claim goes) into a language other than the original, which is better than any other revelation that has been or will be made.
It is in this context that I am intrigued by the Buddhist claim that there are multiple buddhas. Continue reading