The Need for Exemplification (Series on “Minding the Web”)

This is the third in a series of posts highlighting captivating, provocative, or simply entertaining quotes from the forthcoming book Minding the Web: Making Theological Connections by Stanley Hauerwas with Robert J. Dean (Cascade).

In the essay “Why Jean Vanier Matters: An Exemplary Exploration,” Hauerwas draws upon the work of Alasdair MacIntyre to help us see why we cannot do without the exemplification of Jean Vanier and the L’Arche movement, if we are to reason and live well. While the just of the following paragraph could be distilled from many of Hauerwas’s earlier writings, the clarity of the following summary of MacIntyre’s tradition-based account of moral inquiry commends itself to those who are seeking to understand how MacIntyre has impacted Hauerwas’s own way of thinking about ethics and rationality.

“MacIntyre’s emphasis on the historical character of rationality is an alternative to the Encyclopaedic and genealogical positions. That the history of a craft is constitutive of its rationality means that the work of the craft is never complete, as the agents of the craft must remain open to new discoveries and challenges. One of the marks of the authority of the master is that they must know how to go further in order that the craft be extended by recognizing and responding to new challenges. New discov­eries can never be ruled out since one of the marks of a good tradition is to know how to go further. To “go further” means one must know how to link the past with the future in an ongoing narrative that both cares for the past and anticipates the future. Exemplification is required in this process because it must be seen how the new developments in the craft are in continuity with past developments.”1

  1. Stanley Hauerwas, “Why Jean Vanier Matters: An Exemplary Exploration,” Minding the Web: Making Theological Connections (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2018), 52-53.

2 thoughts on “The Need for Exemplification (Series on “Minding the Web”)”

  1. So good. I love the contrast of the “master” who is not a master because of her encyclopaedic knowledge or is descended from ancestral tree filled with accomplished masters, but that a “master” is someone who links the past with the future and knows how to move further with the movement.

    Thanks Rob!

    However, I wish that you would go more deeply into the example “master” that Vanier provides. Perhaps I just need to read the book?

    1. Hi Jesse,

      The short answer would be, “Yes, read the book!”

      You could also take a look at Jean Vanier and Stanley Hauerwas Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness (IVP). This is one of my favourite Hauerwas books. Unfortunately though the last time I remember seeing my copy of the book was when I took it to one of the classes with your cohort! I have a discussion of Hauerwas’s engagement with Vanier and L’Arche in For the Life of the World on pages 206-211.

      To try to put it simply, if you are committed to a non-foundationalist account of knowing then the only way a tradition can meet the challenge of epistemic crises brought about by encountering alternative traditions and changing circumstances is through the exemplification of those masters who have found a way to extend the tradition into the new circumstances. There is no “knock-down proof” for the Christian faith, but there is Jean Vanier and L’Arche. If there were not witnesses like Jean Vanier and L’Arche we would know that the Gospel is not true.

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