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Hugo Clay 6Phil
Alasdair MacIntyre is today's foremost Virtue Ethicist. In 1981 he presented his theory in his book
"After Virtue" where he attempts to resurrect Aristotelian thinking about virtues, those qualities of
mind and character that Aristotle believed to be so essential to living a happy and ethically justifiable
life. His book was divided into three sections, 1. Where we are 2. How did we get here? 3. Where do
we go from here?
In his first section "Where we are", MacIntyre argues that the heart of ethical discussion today is
"crisis morality" not day to day living... led by ramblings of philosophers from their ivory towers. In
other words, nothing seems to be relevant to the "average Joe". It's as though ethics is becoming
meaningless, especially to an ordinary person.
MacIntyre then states that there is no meaningful debate/progression because each theory starts from
a completely different premise. Each theory may makes sense in its own way but that's because they
all start from a different place, hence why many people seem to like bits of different ethics.
MacIntyre then added that this then leads to a society of `emotivists': `'To a large degree people now
think, talk and act as if emotivism were true... emotivism has become embodied in our culture''
(MacIntyre After Virtue). MacIntyre says that our responses to what is right are emotional decisions.
Therefore with no objective way to choose, choice appears to be no more than a matter of taste... a
shopping spree mentality. Our view of `self' is no longer defined by membership of various social
groups but distinct from such and can choose to be anything, to assume any role or take any point of
Furthermore MacIntyre believes that there are `three archetypal characters'' who are now strutting
around the cultural stage within the moral vacuum. These are the bureaucratic manager (the
business man who's only aim is to succeed and make money, doesn't care who's feet he trods on), the
rich aesthete (the rich people who live by celebrity values, this person seems to be successful but has
done nothing special in her life for example Paris Hilton) and the therapist (the people who are
meant to make things easier and to sooth us).
In the section `how we got there' MacIntyre lays the blame at the feet of the enlightenment in the late
17th18th centuries when a rational justification for morality was sought, independent of religion, starting
from premises concerning human nature leading to authoritative moral principles. This was in stark
contrast to the teleological understanding of human nature, that humans have a particular end or
MacIntyre's theory is prescriptive (human beings are the source of what is right and wrong. They
decide rather than discover) since it is created in history not philosophy. As we look through the past
historic events an ethical story beings to unfold. Since this theory is devised through experience it
makes it empirical we can see it through history. What he saw was that humans live as those who
have a purpose. Hence, MacIntyre's theory is teleological in that sense.
The purpose is to find identity and meaning by becoming a successful member of their community.
Each community chooses common practices (a practice is any coherent form of socially established
cooperative activity through which internal goods to that reality are realised) which will benefit them,
but they're individual to the community. For example a community in a small village in Ghana may say
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Hugo Clay 6Phil
that a practice for them is simply to work in order to live whereas in a richer community in the UK a
common practice would be to play sport or enjoy leisure. Hence this shows relativism (dependent on
the situation).…read more