. 4
( 7)


meaning, a sense of being part of something important beyond ourselves,
has yet succeeded in justifying itself, even if some have temporarily avoided
sociopolitical oppression.
The ¬fth and last of the issues that we will raise from MacIntyre™s
critique resides in his view, retained and adapted from his Marxist days,
that much of the vaunted rationality and freedom on which liberal thinkers
have prided their culture since the Enlightenment masks sinister inter-
ests of some groups over others. Some of what are frequently presented
as features of universal reason or as uncontroversial values (e.g., ef¬ciency)
function to serve (and to conceal) these groups™ interests by delegitimizing
any opposition as parochial, romantic, narrow, mystical, dogmatic, unsci-
enti¬c, or otherwise irrational, illiberal, and unjusti¬ed. Here, MacIntyre
sides with the genealogists and other postmodernist “masters of suspi-
cion” in challenging this intellectual hegemon. Unlike them, however,
MacIntyre never deprecates rationality, objectivity, justi¬cation, or or-
dered liberty as such. Rather, he questions the identi¬cation of these with
their recent modernist social manifestations and theoretical conceptualiza-
tions. For him, challenge and pluralism are stages on the way to a recon-
ceived reason and truth, which are never fully attained, but may better be


From his earliest writings, MacIntyre set himself in opposition to the liberal
order of modernism. Like others before him, and in keeping with his deep
belief in the communal and the historical, he consistently maintains that
a nonliberal order would have to draw heavily not only for its critique of
102 J. L. A. GARCIA

liberalism, but also for its positive alternative to liberalism, on sources of
which some were plainly premodern and others we might today classify as
postmodern. The two chief sources were Christianity and Marxism. Thus,
he later wrote of his book:

Then [in 1953, when Marxism: an Interpretation was ¬rst published] I aspired
to be both a Christian and a Marxist . . . now [1968, when its revision was
issued under the title Marxism and Christianity] I am skeptical of both,
although also believing that one cannot entirely discard either without
discarding truths not otherwise available. Then [1953] I envisioned the
beliefs of both Christians and Marxists as essentially the beliefs of organi-
zations . . . Now it is clear that for both Party and [Roman Catholic] church
the relationship of belief to organization has become much more ambigu-
ous. But one still cannot evade the question of relationship. (Marxism and
Christianity, pp. vii“viii)

However, he recognized, as a Hegelian would, that one could not expect
to reinstate either Christianity or Marxism as they had earlier existed. While
both articulated insightful criticisms of the extant order, neither, he thought
at the time, either attempted or could withstand subjecting itself to the
same sort of critique it effectively advanced against modernism. “Christians
and Marxists both wish to exempt their own doctrines from the historical
relativity which they are all too willing to ascribe to the doctrines of others”
(Marxism and Christianity, p. ix).
Eventually, he came to think that a form of Christianity could survive
such critique, and he formulated a new moral-theoretical vision from within
it. In this chapter, my interest lies chie¬‚y in MacIntyre™s criticism of the ma-
jor modernist philosophers™ moral thought, not in what he offers to put in
its place. Nonetheless, a brief consideration of several of his positive pro-
posals can help clarify just what it is to which he objects. As a physician™s
diagnosis can sometimes be better understood by looking to the treatment
prescribed, so may we better grasp pertinent elements of MacIntyre™s cri-
tique if we consider alternatives MacIntyre envisions to each of the ills that,
as interpreted here, he claims to have detected.
In response to the ¬rst of the concerns I cited above, the fact (as he sees
it) that justice and moral reasoning depend upon fairly speci¬c standards of
application and, because of that, also depend on social groups™ practices and
traditions, MacIntyre proposes that we consciously work within the most
defensible tradition available, which he identi¬es as Thomas Aquinas™ syn-
thesis of Aristotle™s virtues-oriented, self-perfectionist naturalist teleology
with Augustine™s conception of moral life as centered in conformity and
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

obedience of will to natural and divine laws (Whose Justice?, pp. 164“208;
Three Rival Versions, pp. 127“148). I put the project this way to highlight
the magnitude of the work Aquinas set himself.
As an alternative to the second concern above noted, that our moral
philosophies and our moral thinking so disengage ˜values™ from ˜facts™ that
we retain no capacity for objectively grounding our normative judgments,
MacIntyre proposes that we evaluate options teleologically, and thus see
value-judgments as factual. He urges a more sociological, practice-based
teleology in After Virtue (see esp. p. 196), and a more biological teleology
in Dependent Rational Animals (see esp. p. x), in such a way that we evaluate
a moral subject and her actions always in relation to some telos “ the kind
of fact that incorporates the basis of certain value judgments.
To counter the disintegration of the moral subject, brie¬‚y described
in the third of MacIntyre™s criticisms of modernist moral philosophizing,
he now proposes that we subordinate any “role teleology” to more com-
prehensive conceptions of human nature and ¬‚ourishing, and of the good
human life as a coherent narrative now understood, especially in Dependent
Rational Animals, to be rooted and revealed in the dependence and vulnerability
we share as humans (pp. x“xi, 1“9).
In response to the fourth problem, the alienation of the individual and
her welfare from that of her group and its communal life, MacIntyre pro-
poses that we conceive of the individual™s ful¬llment and ¬‚ourishing as a
consummation she achieves only as a member of a particular political com-
munity, so that her good cannot be separated either factually or conceptu-
ally from that of her political community, which community itself needs to
be shaped so as adequately to respond to humans™ natural needs as social
The ¬fth and last part that we identi¬ed in MacIntyre™s critique of mod-
ernist moral philosophy and the cultural patterns it attempts to rationalize
and justify was the problem of the supposed ways in which liberalism™s fa-
miliar rhetoric of rationality, justice, freedom, and rights may function to
conceal group interest in maintaining domination. Predictably, this kind
of response has exposed MacIntyre to the charge that his criticism col-
lapses into a form of relativism about morality, at least, and perhaps about
reason itself.8
MacIntyre™s rebuttal is as radical as it is ingenious.9 It is, in effect, to
outrelativize the relativist. Rather than recoiling from relativism, as I un-
derstand his strategy, MacIntyre plunges so deeply into it as, we might say,
to fall out the other side. Let me explain what I mean. A crucial step is to
de¬ne the issue in such a way as to turn the tables on the relativist. Thus,
104 J. L. A. GARCIA

MacIntyre holds ¬rst that the proper issue is not the attainment of moral
knowledge or certainty, but only the rational superiority of a certain po-
sition or, better, the rational superiority of a certain tradition. To demand
more is unrealistic. He holds second that the notion of rational superiority
can only be applied against the background of some particular set of stan-
dards, which we cannot assume to be everywhere accorded the same status.
Third, the comparison explicit in talk of rational superiority already implies
a second term, which further limits the objective. The most that can ever
be established is that accepting a certain tradition is rationally superior to
accepting this or that other one, and all the ones comparatively evaluated
so far. Thus, MacIntyre never entirely abandons his historicism. Fourth,
the verb ˜accept™ requires us to specify a mental subject, and (¬fth, sixth,
and seventh) the Hegelian in MacIntyre is loath to allow her to ¬‚oat free
of all temporal, personal, and social context. So, the question must always
be whether this subject, in the particular situation she occupies within her
society and her time, is rationally justi¬ed by her standards in making this
choice among these options.10
On this basis, as I reconstruct it, MacIntyre™s rejection of relativism
about morality and reason (really about moral reasoning) amounts so far to
the following. Contrary to what he sees as the relativist™s hasty and facile
assumption, MacIntyre insists that it is not necessarily (nor always) the
case that everyone is so situated that there is no position whose adoption
by her at any time would be rationally superior to some particular set of
alternatives. Adapting (in MacIntyre 1977a) the Kuhnian notion of “episte-
mological crises,” MacIntyre suggests that it is possible for (at least) some
of us, by wide study and deep re¬‚ection, to come to be in such a position,
relative to our own and to some other moral tradition(s), that it may be
rationally superior/preferable, even by our own criteria of rationality (C1),
for us (people in group G1) to accept some tradition (T1) over another
tradition (T2) in our social situation (S1) and temporal location (L1). As
the indexical terms indicate, that is a highly relativized claim. MacIntyre,
as I understand him, uses it to place the strong relativist in the extreme
position of having, implausibly, to deny this possibility in principle. Now
the tables are turned, and it is the relativist who appears the dogmatist,
claiming to know in advance and a priori that no one can be so situated.
Note that MacIntyre forecloses what might seem the most appealing way of
defending a strong relativism. For that defense would insist that standards
of rationality are themselves relative to different traditions or conceptions
of rational inquiry, and MacIntyre concedes (indeed, insists on) that claim at
the outset.
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

Of course, to rest with this would constitute phony victory over a straw
man. Not every form of relativism need be so strong. This victory would
allow the purportedly vanquished relativist still to say that no one in the
actual world, or no one in our Western traditions of moral inquiry, or no
one for the past several hundred years, has been in a situation rationally to
discern or choose as superior any from a limited number of seriously con-
tending traditions. The relativist might well ¬nd that a defeat to savor. So
it is important for MacIntyre™s strategy to insist that science (as illuminated
by its philosophically understood history) gives us historical examples of
epistemological crises and how people have responded to them rationally.
That provides him a model for his view that modernity has also plunged
this society into a kind of prolonged, epistemological crisis in the moral
realm. MacIntyre is not eager to claim that we are all in a position easily
to resolve (or even to recognize) our crisis. In fact, it nicely jibes with his
dismissive stance toward much recent philosophy to say that many of us,
his academic colleagues “ narrowly read, ignorant of the natural and so-
cial sciences, unschooled in history, whose cramped specialization leaves us
unfamiliar with the details and even the languages of many of the West™s
moral traditions let alone those of distant lands “ have no hope of ¬nding
a resolution unless we change our ways radically. Relativism is wrong in
that it is false “ indeed, as MacIntyre has reversed the expected order, it is
narrow minded “ to assume that there is no hope, in principle, for us to
get to a point from which a rational choice among traditions can be made.
However, nothing in that means it will be easy, or that most of us are already
in a position to make one.
Moreover, MacIntyre distances himself from relativism by rejecting
what he seems to see as the most appealing form of relativism for us
today “ that is, Nietzschean genealogy “ because of what he regards as
its inconsistent and inadequate account of the self (Three Rival Versions,
pp. 205“215). There are several aspects to this critique, most of which I
will not explore here.11 One chief point, however, is that genealogists go
too far, treating not just the human being qua individual (as conceived in
the Enlightenment), qua rights-bearer, and so on, as social inventions or
“constructs,” but regarding humans as social constructions “all the way
down,” to adapt Richard Rorty™s phrase. Against this, the MacIntyrean
wants to remind us that the process of construction must have both an
agent and an input. These, of course, are already human beings, and they
must have constitutive and other qualities antecedent to the constructive
process. This raises the possibility that these qualities and the nature that
grounds them can already serve as the basis of moral virtues. Likewise,
106 J. L. A. GARCIA

the fact that even genealogical deconstructive analysis needs some norms
of rational inquiry raises the possibility of more constructive applications
of these norms. The genealogist™s very notions of manipulation, distrac-
tion and fetishization, masking and unmasking, all likewise suggest some
more humane forms of interaction and more honest and truthful forms of
social organization. Finally, for genealogy and deconstruction to lead to im-
proved understanding and appropriate action, for unmasking to have either
a theoretical or a practical point, there need to be norms of reasoning and
moral conduct that, even if themselves critically examined, are not thereby


Thus far, I have essayed some sketch of several of MacIntyre™s principal
misgivings about many of the West™s chief moral philosophical presupposi-
tions, arguments, and positions from early modernism through the present.
While my task in this essay is chie¬‚y expository, it may prove useful for us to
undertake a few steps towards assessment. It is often the case, and especially
in philosophical writing, that it is in subjecting it to criticism that we come
not only to appreciate a position™s strengths and weaknesses, but better to
understand its content.
On the ¬rst issue, MacIntyre is surely correct that evaluation of an option
as just or rationally superior requires fairly speci¬c standards. However, it
is not obvious why or that (a set of) standards need (1) have come into
existence publicly, (2) have developed over time, or, more important, (3) be
an accepted and continuing project of some social group. That I need to use
standards to make a value or normative judgment hardly shows that I need
to use socially established, lasting, and accepted ones. Nor has MacIntyre
shown that no fairly speci¬c standards are internal to the only (or to the
most) defensible understanding or speci¬cation of reason or justice. He
has marshaled arguments against Kantian, Humean, utilitarian, and other
conceptions of rationality, some more powerful than others, but the issue
is hardly settled. MacIntyre may be impatient and unrealistic in insisting
that if philosophy has not yet resolved the matter, then we ought consider
it beyond resolution and move on. Indeed, this presupposes his view that
to establish a thesis must be to establish it by socially recognized standards.
That, however, is just what may be in dispute. Nevertheless, we should
recognize that MacIntyre has an important point in reminding us that it is
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

dif¬cult to defend the rationality of trusting any such conception until it
has been tested by many and over time.
As to the second matter, MacIntyre rightly observes both that we in-
vented the terms we use in moral reasoning and also that the related concepts,
such as (and especially) those of fact and value, came to be recognized in
time. However, it does not follow, and seems strange to maintain, that we
invented either facts or values, let alone that an intellectual tradition is the
key to overcoming their bifurcation.13 Again, though, it seems to me that
MacIntyre is basically correct that we need something like (along the lines
of ) an Aristotelian teleology, in which a valid value judgment is a species of
factual judgment, in order to yield defensible, productive, objective, ratio-
nal, convincing, and noncontroversial evaluation.
On the third issue, that of the fragmentation of the modern self, we
can certainly allow that MacIntyre™s conception of the individual™s good as
that which she has qua member of a political community with a tradition
of rational inquiry is, doubtless, one way of overcoming ultimate fragmen-
tation. However, there are alternatives we would need carefully to consider
before we could be fully justi¬ed in rejecting them. Germain Grisez, for
example, has recently suggested that an overarching project internal to
the good of religion can lend unity to human life, and it may also be that
even within pluralistic, role-centered moral theory, a certain comprehen-
sive role-relationship “ such as that of God™s creature “ which encompasses
the other roles that constitute moral life, could overcome such fragmenta-
tion (see Grisez 2001; also Garcia 1997). Still, it may be that MacIntyre can
allow for these possibilities if he allows that the fact that someone™s living
morally may promote her individual self-interest is neither her motive nor
her behavior™s moral justi¬cation (Meilaender 1999).
The fourth matter concerned modernism™s balkanized, atomistic psy-
chology. This certainly appears to be something socially harmful and
otherwise undesirable. However, it is doubtful that we can eliminate all
con¬‚ict between your individual welfare and mine or (what is different)
between yours and (y)our group™s. It is, moreover, dangerous to look to
politics and to political community and tradition for this total absorp-
tion of the individual into something larger.14 For all that, we should
admit that MacIntyre is correct to think that someone can be good (i.e.,
act well) and (what is different) can ¬‚ourish (i.e., fare well) only as this
or that, even if he is too restrictive in his view of what can serve these
Finally, the kind of response to the charge of relativism that MacIntyre
makes concedes that both morality and its rational evaluation (both internal
108 J. L. A. GARCIA

and external) are relativistic, limiting only the latitudinarian implications
of this claim. I suspect MacIntyre concedes too much to the relativist here,
relativizing standards of both morality and rationality to social forms. More
important, his concessions seem not to be required by the strength of the
relativist™s arguments, but rather driven by his own prior intellectual sym-
pathy for Hegelian relativization of rational and moral norms to historically
embodied forms of social life. That said, the sort of critique I attribute to
MacIntyre is unusually helpful in exposing forms of dogmatism internal to
the supposedly tolerant (and, nowadays, pragmatic) doctrines of cultural
relativism in morality.
Summing up, then, MacIntyre™s claims for tradition™s necessity may well
be overstated.16 Still, he is surely correct that we need to be more aware
of disputable and hidden assumptions and to avoid smug modernism, even
those of us who continue to think we can make genuine progress by the now
hoary techniques of conceptual analysis. Charles Taylor suggests we need to
know those intuitions™ sociohistorical origins (Taylor 1989, pp. 3“4). I sus-
pect this is particularly true in questioning temporally and class-limited (or
class-concentrated) views about what either is valuable or is entitled to pro-
tection from interference, social discouragement, or regulation. There is no
pretending any more that even utilitarianism can somehow manage without
appeal to our moral intuitions. Certainly, we must be more aware of how
those intuitions can be shaped by history, class, and circumstance. This is
an important hedge against the low-minded “deontologism” of those who
strive merely to articulate and defend received elite opinion and current
prejudices “ about mercy killing, sexual perversions, medicalized mutila-
tions, monstrous experiments in cloning, and so on down the new agenda “
of their own comfortable and educated class.
I suspect MacIntyre is also correct that we should look to humans™ per-
sonhood, needs, interpersonal relationships (Homeric ˜ought™s), and virtues
rather than to duties and principles as keys to moral life “ what we funda-
mentally want and need in and from others and ourselves as and because
we are humans. Robert Adams has recently pressed the old complaint that
the traditional conception of natural law draws too much from this minimal
truth (Adams 1999, p. 365). Perhaps we can continue, as MacIntyre does,
to call these deep features of ourselves “natural,” but acknowledge that this
is a rather modest use of the term, less grandly teleological and functioning
more like one of J. L. Austin™s “trouser words,” chie¬‚y to exclude the possi-
bility that these preferences are rooted merely in social convention, idiosyn-
cratic subjective preference, and so on (see also Adams 1999, pp. 307“308,
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique


Anyone who has had occasion to teach Aquinas™ Summa Theologiae, espe-
cially if she has taught it to undergraduates, will have had occasion to note,
regret, and make public apology for the book™s confusing and vexing for-
mat. Its so-called “questions” are but the names of topics, its “articles” are
in the form of questions, and each major discussion begins with a battery of
arguments “ usually bolstered by erudite quotations from (and sometimes
controversial interpretations of ) an array of authorities from Scripture,
scriptural commentators, church fathers, more recent theologians, as well
as from pagan philosophers “ arguments severally and collectively mak-
ing a case against some thesis the author holds. Only after this prologue
to each “article” does Aquinas articulate and defend his own position on
the issue, proceeding then to laborious rebuttals of each “objection.” We
are not surprised such a work was never ¬nished; the wonder is that it was
ever begun.
It is the maddening thoroughness of this give-and-take, so irritating
to today™s short-attention-span readers, that seems to draw MacIntyre to
Aquinas and his great Summa, not only as a principal source of truth and
wisdom but also as a model of what he sees as the communal intellectual
work of philosophical and theological inquiry. Some aestheticians have ex-
ploited the ambiguity in the term ˜painting™, which can refer both to an
activity and its ¬nished product. We might note just the same ambiguity
in the word ˜work™. Part of what seems to appeal to MacIntyre in Aquinas™
great work is the way its author lets us see him working, a mind at work
in wrestling with other minds in a common striving for the truth. Despite
the oft-heard and glib dismissals of Aquinas and his Christian colleagues
for dogmatism, the Summa Theologiae is anything but a calm, imperious,
context-free, and ahistorical recitation of the truth. The truth for which it
strives, and into which it sometimes offers glimpses, may be outside time
and space. However, the book itself is unmistakably and unapologetically a
work of its time. It is a summation, as its name makes explicit, of what has
so far been said on the issues it treats and an interpretation of the progress
that has been made, sometimes by revealing the dead ends to which some
lines of inquiry have proceeded. This is MacIntyre™s Aquinas, the paradigm
of the intellectual inquirer, guided along the pathway by the lamps of tra-
dition, but continually looking into what ¬‚ickers in the darkness to help
us see why the lamps marking the path™s edge stand where they do. Even
if truth is eternal, we inquirers are placed in time and place, and can only
attain those truths by re¬‚ecting with, and often by arguing against, others
110 J. L. A. GARCIA

who have gone before us. This is not always pretty, but it is necessary if
we are to learn from our history and from others™ wrong turns as well as
their progress. It is as if MacIntyre sees in Aquinas™ work an intellectual
embodiment of a recent poet™s injunction:

whatever you have to say, leave
the roots on, let them
And the dirt
Just to make clear
where they come from (Olson 1987b)

Jung compared the mind to a house, and I suggested above that we could
pro¬tably employ this metaphor in grasping MacIntyre™s view of parts of
our modern social order and its moral vocabulary. In this conclusion I have
shifted to a metaphor of inquiry as night hiking along a lantern-lit path,
and the poem I cited regards our speech as if an uprooted plant. Perhaps
we should see these three images in play “ house, uprooted plant, night-lit
path “ as corresponding to three moments in MacIntyre™s analysis. In ex-
amining what MacIntyre regards as our current moral babble, the poet™s
metaphor of the uprooted plant helps us understand our discourse as com-
posed of pieces torn from the intellectual and social context they need for
intelligibility as plants need soil for sustenance. In examining the larger
intellectual edi¬ce of our moral thinking, the metaphor of the house helps
us discern that what now seems to ¬t may have been merely plastered to-
gether or covered with a common carpeting, concealing deeper differences
in materials and underlying foundations, differences which may mean dif-
ferential capacity to bear loads, etc. In considering how we ought respond
to these facts, or what is to be done, the metaphor of the lamp-lit path at
night, where skeletons in the dark mark paths that did not work, helps us
remember that we may be able to make progress only along paths lit by
others™ successes and marked by others™ failures. What is important to take
from MacIntyre™s critique is the emphasis on process and our situatedness.
Now, as a Christian in search of what he has reconceived as timeless truth
about our nature and origin, as earlier when, as a Marxist, he repudiated
the class-based and imperial assumptions he discerned within European
Enlightenment thought, MacIntyre has wanted to puncture the pretension
of our time™s little preoccupations and rules, which present themselves as
eternal truths and inherent structures of reason itself. Whatever the truth
about truth itself, we approach truth through a dialectic process, and it is
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

at our own peril that we delude ourselves into believing that we can do it
entirely on our own and cut off from time and space, as Descartes imagined
in his warm little chamber. We can see how to proceed, MacIntyre thinks,
only by continually reviewing the places from where we have come. Not for
our minds is the Crystal Palace, which so excited the pulse of the Victorians
in the last glory of Enlightenment innocence that MacIntyre explores at the
beginning of Three Rival Versions. If these minds of ours are to witness such
perfect limpidity, it must be in some future realm MacIntyre now thinks
better envisioned by John the Divine than by Karl Marx. For our minds,
even in their highest intellectual achievements, there is no leaving behind
the roots and the dirt because we need “to make clear where they come


1. Jung 1928, pp. 118“119; quoted in Alston Conly, “House: Charged Space,” cat-
alogue of an exhibition at the McMullen Museum, Boston College, June 11“
September 16, 2001.
2. MacIntyre realizes the problematic inherent in his contrast of liberal modernism
with tradition. As liberals seem to have their own great texts, powerful images,
accepted avenues of thought, et cetera, why is not liberalism itself a tradition? His
answer is not readily discernable, but seems to boil down to the claim that while
liberalism may have some of the trappings of “tradition” and may even be called
a tradition, it is not a tradition of inquiry in the relevant sense. Especially because
of the stark opposition it presupposes between rationality and authority, even the
authority of tradition, liberalism cannot comfortably accept itself as a tradition,
and more important it cannot adequately operate as a tradition of inquiry that
makes progress.
3. The house image is an old one. Descartes puts it to very different use from
MacIntyre in Part 2 of his Discourse on Method, in which he stresses the need for
knowledge, like a house, to have good foundations, and complains about houses
and towns (and, by implication, mental structures) built in different parts by
different architects and in different styles. For MacIntyre, the issue is not just
that of the ¬rmness of foundations, but of the history and concealment of ill-
¬tting elements, seams, and joints, and of different foundations and even their
possible absence beneath some sections later added.
4. That philosophical attention to these most general terms may be misplaced was
a point Anscombe made and on which she has been joined by Bernard Williams,
among others.
5. MacIntyre himself proposed a more limited reading of Hume (1959a), but later
revised this in Whose Justice?, pp. 311“322. It is not clear to me the extent to
which in the latter revision MacIntyre joins the standard interpretation of Hume
as denying any inference from what he deemed factual judgments to moral ones.
112 J. L. A. GARCIA

6. In so talking of facts and values, and even sometimes of the “individual,” as
social inventions (“constructions,” some would say today), MacIntyre makes
a move characteristic of the postmodernist heroes of today™s cultural studies.
Thus, Michel Foucault pointedly and in¬‚uentially insisted in The Order of Things
(1974 [1966]) that “man” himself was an invention of recent vintage, adding that
he was also one that would not last long. Here, the poststructuralist Foucault
outdid his structuralist predecessor Claude Levi-Strauss, who had a decade
earlier reminded his readers that there were no human beings at the world™s
outset and there would be none at its close. See also Lilla 1998.
7. This dif¬culty also af¬‚icts the system of Homeric ˜ought™-judgments and makes
it impossible for us to return to anything like it as adequate for our purposes.
8. See, especially, Nussbaum 1989. This assumed opposition persists. In a re-
cent exchange, scholars dispute whether Edmund Burke, in his rejection of the
French Revolution, was siding with tradition against reason (see McElroy et al.
2002). While the disputants allow that things are not quite so simple because in-
strumental reason might indicate some value or short-term ef¬ciency in relying
on tradition, they do not address the stronger possibilities MacIntyre envisages “
that a tradition can itself be a tradition of rationality nor, more strongly, that
practical rationality may require a tradition in order to ¬‚esh out its conception
of the good life and to turn vague desiderata such as adequate consideration
into determinate criteria for use. Consider also Nozick on the parallel dif¬culty
in theoretical assessment:
Are there procedures for choosing among alternative and competing sci-
enti¬c theories of the same phenomena; do the norms or methodology
of science determine such choices among theories, so that all who follow
these norms must agree in which theory they select? There are differ-
ent virtues in a scienti¬c theory, different dimensions along which it can
be evaluated: explanatory power, goodness of ¬t with the data, breadth
and diversity of evidential support, degree of testability, range and diver-
sity of phenomena it covers, simplicity, ¬t with accepted theories, and so
on. . . . Judgments of how a theory falls along each of these dimensions
are largely intuitive. Moreover, there is certainly no adequate systematic
proposal about how these different desiderata of a theory are to be com-
bined in an overall evaluation, about how two competing theories are to be
comparatively evaluated or ranked when one is better along one of these
dimensions, while the other is better along others. (Nozick 1981, p. 483)
MacIntyre would demur chie¬‚y regarding Nozick™s appeal to private (and
uncon¬rmable) intuition, where MacIntyre would invoke a time-tested tradi-
tion of inquiry to set standards and make comparisons, and regarding Nozick™s
apparent assumption that a theory™s epistemic adequacy can be determined out-
side of such tradition-relative standards.
9. My discussion is chie¬‚y an interpretation of Whose Justice? See also MacIntyre
10. We might stress that, though she faces this decision by herself in an important
sense, she will have gotten there only through joint inquiry conducted by con-
tinual consultation of other efforts in both her own tradition and others. For
Modern(ist) Moral Philosophy and MacIntyrean Critique

more on inquiry™s social dimension and as modeled as a kind of Aristotelian
friendship founded on a common good, see Burrell 2000.
11. See Gutting 1999, pp. 107“110.
12. “[B]oth Christianity and Marxism are constantly being refuted; and the point
here is . . . that those who lack any positive coherent view of the world them-
selves still have to invoke Christianity and Marxism, even in the acts of criti-
cism and refutation, as points of ideological and social reference” (Marxism and
Christianity, p. viii).
13. Judith Thomson has recently suggested that teleology may not be necessary for
factual evaluation, though being good in ways (or qua this or that) is needed (see
Thomson 2001, ch. 1). We ought also point out that the fact/value gap does
not suf¬ce for emotivism, as MacIntyre appears to presuppose in After Virtue,
because prescriptivism and versions of intersubjective ethics taking moral terms
to express group endorsement are also available and alternative possibilities.
14. The problem also besets some of MacIntyre™s more effective critics. It seems to
me exacerbated within Gutting™s (1999) “pragmatic liberalism.”
15. Certainly, this is a more sensible approach than some recent efforts to under-
stand human bene¬t. Judith Thomson, for example, offers a bifurcated analysis
of what is good for someone, referring most forms of bene¬t, especially those
we share with lower animals, to our functioning as humans, but deferring others
to subjective desires, insisting only that the latter be ¬ltered in various ways to
ensure that they are serious, informed, voluntary (see Thomson 2001, ch. 1).
What is startling here is that Thomson never raises the obvious question of how
someone™s wanting this or that itself ¬ts with desire™s function in human life.
16. Moreover, the historicism MacIntyre thinks internal to tradition may clash with
the locality he also emphasizes. For more on this, see Gutting 1999, pp. 99“101.
17. I express thanks to Patrick Byrne, Sarah Harper, Mark Murphy, and Jason Taylor
for helpful comments on an earlier draft.
5 MacIntyre and Contemporary
Moral Philosophy

The task of this chapter is to give a general account of Alasdair MacIntyre™s
views in moral philosophy. This would be a dif¬cult task to carry out
in the short space allowed for any major moral philosopher, but there
are well-known reasons why it is even more formidable for MacIntyre.
MacIntyre has been publishing important work in moral philosophy for
over half a century, and in the early years of the new millennium he shows
no signs of slowing down. His views in ethics have changed in important
respects during this period and they continue to develop, sometimes
in surprising ways. These dif¬culties in interpreting MacIntyre are
compounded by the fact that he does not neatly separate his work in ethics
from his work in action theory, philosophy of language, and philosophy
of the social sciences. And, notoriously, his systematic views in ethics are
developed against the background of a rich and controversial account of the
history of ethics. Moreover, his work in ethics has engaged in a number of
different ways most of the large-scale cultural developments in the last half
century, including especially the cold war con¬‚icts between Marxism and
liberalism, the cultural turmoil of the sixties, and radical changes within
the Roman Catholic Church (of which he has been a member since the
These characteristics of MacIntyre™s views, however, should not be ex-
aggerated. Although his views have developed in important ways, there are a
number of themes that have not changed. Indeed, it will be part of the thesis
of this chapter that the continuities in MacIntyre™s ethical thought are more
important than the changes in it. MacIntyre himself has frequently men-
tioned that his objections to liberalism have remained constant through-
out the development of his thought, although they have been made from
slightly different perspectives at different times. He has also consistently
rejected emotivist and relativist approaches to ethics, while at the same
time rejecting the main foundationalist alternatives to these approaches.
Throughout his career he has shown an openness to a robust naturalism in
ethics, while always (unlike some others who have championed the cause

MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

of virtue) emphasizing the centrality and ineliminability of moral rules in
the moral life.
It also seems to me that MacIntyre™s reputation as an outsider to main-
stream academic moral philosophy is misleading. Although he often writes
in a manner that contributes to the myth that he is an outsider hoping to
pull down the house of academic moral philosophy, careful attention to
his work throughout his career belies this reputation. MacIntyre has in-
deed been almost a model philosophical citizen. He has carefully and fairly
reviewed the books of his most important philosophical opponents and re-
sponded patiently to their criticisms of his own work. No contemporary
moral philosopher has made a greater effort to open himself to dialogue
with his opponents, nor has any moral philosopher been more gracious in
acknowledging his debts to others.
In suggesting that MacIntyre is a good philosophical citizen, and not
the enfant terrible he is sometimes held to be, I do not intend to deny that
he is distinctive in a number of respects among contemporary Anglophone
moral philosophers. As already noted, he pays much more attention to the
history of ethics than do most other contemporary moral philosophers, and
he does not simply combine his superb historical learning with a distinct
capacity for systematic ethical theory. It is impossible to separate his the-
ses in systematic moral philosophy from his historical claims. In criticizing
the Enlightenment Project, he is also criticizing the Enlightenment. His
defense of Aquinas is inseparable from his careful historical scholarship on
Aquinas. Some of MacIntyre™s most astute critics recognize that to criticize
his ethics it will be necessary to criticize his history.1 MacIntyre also, of
course, pays much more attention to the social sciences than do most other
contemporary moral philosophers. He not only says that “every moral phi-
losophy presupposes a sociology,” he also claims to investigate the sociology
presupposed by the moral philosophies he discusses. Like many continental
philosophers, he engages the thought of Marx and Freud and brings their
work into contact with the projects of moral philosophy. He has been also
in¬‚uenced, in ways that are unusual for most Anglophone moral philoso-
phers, by the thought of such continental ¬gures as Gadamer, Maritain,
and, more recently, Edith Stein and Husserl.
In spite of the many ways in which MacIntyre™s work differs from that of
most off-the-shelf Anglophone moral philosophers, his work in ethics can
be understood in relation to the standard divisions within twentieth-century
analytic moral philosophy™s metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.
In the ¬rst half of the twentieth century, academic moral philosophy came
to be dominated by a set of questions about the meaning of key ethical

terms and the logical structure of moral arguments. This set of questions,
and a variety of semantic and logical techniques for answering them, de¬ned
what came to be called metaethics. This problematic lives on in contem-
porary ethics, although in a slightly chastened and less central form. In the
1960s, and especially in the early 1970s, there was a revival of the kind of
large-scale normative theorizing characteristic of such historical ¬gures as
Kant, Bentham, Hobbes, and Aristotle. Disputes within normative ethics
came to dominate most academic discussions in ethics in the last quar-
ter century, and the classical arguments between Kant and Bentham “ or
Hobbes and Aquinas “ are being refought by their twentieth-century surro-
gates. At about the time that philosophers started turning their attention to
the project of normative ethics, they also began commenting on particular
moral quandaries arising in particular social and professional contexts “
medicine, the environment, the relation between men and women, the
obligations of citizenship, and so forth. Applied ethics then became a third
context, characterized by a set of questions and increasingly by a set of com-
peting theoretical approaches, for discussion among contemporary moral
MacIntyre™s relation to contemporary discussions in metaethics, nor-
mative ethics, and applied ethics is complex. On the one hand, he has made
important contributions to all three areas. He has defended a robust cog-
nitivism in metaethics, a rich Aristotelianism in normative ethics, and a
number of particular views within applied ethics. At the same time, he
has been critical of the framework that has shaped much of the discussion
in these three areas. It is the somewhat Janus-faced aspect of MacIntyre™s
contributions to these three areas, I want to argue, that makes his role in
contemporary philosophy open to such differing interpretations. MacIntyre
the outsider is critical of the pretensions of metaethics and normative ethics
and of their ideological and self-deceived roles, as he sees them, in many
contemporary discussions. MacIntyre the good philosophical citizen nev-
ertheless models the right way to do metaethics and normative ethics. Dis-
cussions in each of these areas of ethics arise out of genuine questions, and
these questions demand answers that it is the duty of philosophers to pur-
sue. MacIntyre has pursued these answers as vigorously and with as much
integrity as any contemporary philosopher. At the same time, he is fully
alive to the possibility that the framework within which these questions
arise may itself be distorted by ideological pressure, by bureaucratic forms
of organization, or by other forces that the philosopher™s cultural and histor-
ical na¨vet´ ill suit him or her to recognize. MacIntyre sometimes can give
the impression of being engaged in a perverse Neurathian project “ trying
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

to rebuild the ship of ethics while simultaneously loudly claiming that it
cannot actually be rebuilt “ and further charging that, even if it could, it
would certainly sink at its mooring.
In what follows, I will structure the discussion by examining MacIntyre™s
contributions to two of the three areas of ethics I have distinguished here “
metaethics and normative ethics. For reasons of space, I will largely ignore
his contributions to applied ethics. While examining his particular contri-
butions, however, we will be also examining the ways in which he is critical
of the framework of discussion in each area and his suggestions about how
the questions and techniques in each area should be transformed.2 In the
¬nal section we will turn brie¬‚y to a discussion of two signi¬cant criticisms
of MacIntyre™s work in ethics.


There is a perennial distinction in moral philosophy between abstract ques-
tions of conceptual structure and meaning in ethics, and concrete questions
about the content of moral principles or rules “ or the appropriate lists of
virtues and goods. It was left to the twentieth-century metaethical tradi-
tion, however, to sharpen this distinction into an orthodoxy so rigid that
it almost strangled creative ethical thought. It was presupposed by almost
everyone in this tradition that there was something distinctive about moral
language and moral argument, and that it was the primary (or possibly
exclusive) task of moral philosophy to explore these special semantic and
logical features of the moral. Metaethical investigations in this tradition
were sharply distinguished from normative ethics (which took up substan-
tive ethical questions), and it was frequently suggested that moral philoso-
phers, as philosophers, should con¬ne their activity strictly to metaethical
The story of the history of classical metaethics from G. E. Moore to
its transformation in the ¬nal third of the twentieth century has been fre-
quently told, not least by MacIntyre himself in the penultimate chapter
of his Short History of Ethics. It is common now to distinguish three main
phases in this history:
1. The intuitionism of Moore, Prichard, and Ross, which focused on the
autonomy of the ethical and the evaluative and, in Moore™s case, on the
inde¬nability of the most basic ethical terms.
2. The noncognitivist reaction to intuitionism made popular by the work
of Stevenson and Ayer, and developed in a later, more sophisticated

form by R. M. Hare.4 The noncognitivists shared the intuitionists™
objections to “naturalistic” de¬nitions of evaluative terms, but rejected
the intuitionists™ view that the main task of ethical discourse is to ascribe
properties to actions or persons. The noncognitivist emphasis on the
action-guiding role of the ethical led them to attribute a special form
of meaning (variously, emotive meaning, evaluative meaning, or pre-
scriptive meaning) to ethical terms and to argue that moral argument
should be understood as embodying an irreducible rhetorical compo-
nent which could not be captured in any purely cognitive metaethical
3. The “naturalistic” rejection of the excesses of both intuitionism and
noncognitivism by such thinkers as Foot, Geach, Toulmin, Searle, and
MacIntyre himself in the 1950s and 1960s.

MacIntyre™s ¬rst important work in ethics, his master™s thesis5 (1951),
was written very much in the spirit of classical metaethics and attempted to
move beyond what was already being called an impasse between cognitivists
and noncognitivists in this metaethical discussion. In this thesis, The Signif-
icance of Moral Judgments, he develops a number of themes that ¬gure in his
discussion of metaethics in the decades to follow. Almost half of the thesis is
taken up with close criticism of Moore™s intuitionism and Stevenson™s emo-
tivism. While he rejects both intuitionist and emotivist metaethical views
using familiar arguments, he also argues that the intuitionists and emo-
tivists shared a number of views about the metaethical project itself that he
regards as mistaken. Indeed, he argues that all participants in the metaeth-
ical discussion shared a tendency to oversimplify the metaethical project
by supposing that it is possible to discover a relatively simple characteriza-
tion of the meaning of moral discourse. MacIntyre argues, however, even
at this early stage in his thought, that the meaning of such discourse will
not conform to a single pattern. As he says in summing up this point:

The most important step in the understanding of the signi¬cance of moral
judgments is taken at the point when we cease to look for a referential mean-
ing for them, naturalistic or non-naturalistic. The temptation is, of course,
to go on from this to deny them anything but an emotive or psychological
signi¬cance as interjections. But once we have seen that signi¬cance does
not derive from reference, that every kind of sentence has its own kind of
logic, and that these logics are the logics of languages in use, we can formu-
late the sense in which moral judgements have signi¬cance by exhibiting
the logic of their usage. (Signi¬cance of Moral Judgments, p. 73)
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

There are places in the thesis where MacIntyre seems to lean toward a
broadly naturalistic view of moral language, as when he says:
Frequently when all the facts have been related, nothing more remains to
be said. At the end of “Madame Bovary” we do not want Flaubert to say,
we do not want to say ourselves, “Emma Bovary was a bad woman.” We are
more likely to do as the French have done and cease to use the word “bad”
to describe that kind of woman in the future, using instead a word coined
from her name. (Signi¬cance of Moral Judgments, p. 65)

There is no non-natural property to be added to the facts in this case,
nor need there be an emotive overlay. MacIntyre makes it clear, however,
that even the naturalistic accounts of moral language that most tempt him
oversimplify the “logic of moral discourse.”
In the ¬nal chapter of the thesis, MacIntyre turns his attention
from his criticism of the standard metaethical positions to constructive
suggestions about how an exploration of the “logic of moral language
in use” might work. He carefully dissects a number of moral arguments
drawn from literary texts by, among others, E. M. Forster, Virginia
Woolf, D. H. Lawrence, and Aeschylus. By looking carefully at these
arguments, MacIntyre attempts to establish the diversity of forms of moral
argument and the dangers of any attempt (as he later puts it in “Ought”)
to “homogenize” our moral vocabulary or forms of moral argument. In
the end his claim is that intuitionism, emotivism, and naturalism each pick
out some feature of moral judgment and moral argument and elevate it to
a kind of paradigmatic status. The central mistake made by the classical
metaethicists is one of oversimpli¬cation, a mistake that can only be made
good by attending to the variety and complexity of moral language and
moral discussion. He ends the thesis with this characteristic MacIntyrean
It is because they enable us to solve problems of appraisal and of action
that moral judgements possess signi¬cance. They are part of a pattern
of language and action, continually to be adjusted and criticized, and just
because they are never exempt from criticism to be accorded the title of
reasonable or unreasonable, as the case may be. Above all they arise out
of the way in which we see the world and the way in which our language
allows us to see the world. We cannot suf¬ciently emphasize the direction
given to our appraisals by the language which happens to be available for
our descriptions. It is as we see the facts that we judge the world. But
even within the limits of our language, vague and imprecise as it so often
is, there is better and worse reasoning, there are correct and mistaken

decisions. But on this topic one can only be conscious of how little has
been said, how much remains to say. (Signi¬cance of Moral Judgments,
p. 92)

MacIntyre attempts to say over the next half century much of what he
regards at mid-century as remaining to be said. His later work continues
to emphasize themes clearly enunciated in this early work: (1) that moral
judgments are important because of their connection with “problems of
appraisal and of action”; (2) that moral judgments are never beyond criticism
and dispute and that just for this reason the categories of the reasonable
and the unreasonable apply to them and the arguments for them; (3) that
moral judgments grow out of how we see the world, and that vision is more
central to moral judgment than attitude; and (4) that the contours of our
moral thought and action are constrained by “the language which happens
to be available for our descriptions.”
MacIntyre pursues both his critical and constructive metaethical sugges-
tions at many places in his later works, particularly in the last chapter of the
Short History, a number of the essays reprinted in the second half of Against
the Self-Images of the Age, and, of course, in the opening chapters of After
Virtue. In all of these discussions he shows respect for the integrity of the
work done by the classical metaethicists while sharply criticizing many of
their conclusions and, more importantly, their self-understanding. His par-
ticular criticisms of the intuitionists and the noncognitivists in this tradition
differ little from many of those raised by other critics at the time (Strawson™s
criticism of intuitionism and Geach and Foot™s criticisms of noncognitivism
were particularly in¬‚uential). His reaction to classical metaethics is dis-
tinctive, however, in at least two ways. First, unlike most other critics, he
is concerned to explore in some depth why the views of intuitionists like
Moore and emotivists like Stevenson were so persuasive; second, he is inter-
ested not only in assessing particular metaethical views but also in assessing
the enterprise of metaethics itself. His most important conclusions about
the metaethical enterprise are threefold: (1) the main metaethical views
are mistaken as metaethical views; (2) nevertheless, these views illuminate
important features of the cultures in which they were put forward; and
(3) the enterprise of metaethics as conceived by most of those engaging in
it embodies mistaken views about how moral concepts are related to their
cultural setting.
MacIntyre™s discussion of metaethics in A Short History once again
provides brief criticisms of all of the main positions in the metaethical
tradition.6 His overall diagnosis of metaethical disagreement in this work,
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

however, is more narrowly speci¬ed than it was in his thesis written a decade
and a half earlier. In Short History he argues that the central metaethical dis-
agreement between cognitivist and noncognitivist metaethical views is best
understood as growing out of a con¬‚ict between persons speaking from
outside any moral view and those speaking from within a particular moral

Conceptual con¬‚ict is endemic in our situation, because of the depth of
our moral con¬‚icts. Each of us therefore has to choose both with whom we
wish to be morally bound and by what ends, rules, and virtues we wish to be
guided. These two choices are inextricably linked. . . . Speaking from within
my own moral vocabulary, I shall ¬nd myself bound by the criteria embodied
in it. . . . Yet I must choose for myself with whom I am to be morally bound.
I must choose between alternative forms of social and moral practice. Not
that I stand morally naked until I have chosen. For our social past determines
that each of us has some vocabulary with which to frame and to make his
choice. (Short History, p. 268)

He puts the point even more pointedly when he says,

It follows that we are liable to ¬nd two kinds of people in our society:
those who speak from within one of these surviving moralities, and those
who stand outside all of them. Between the adherents of rival moralities and
between the adherents of one morality and the adherents of none there exists
no court of appeal, no impersonal neutral standard. For those who speak
from within a given morality, the connection between fact and valuation
is established in virtue of the meanings of the words they use. To those
who speak from without, those who speak from within appear merely to
be uttering imperatives which express their own liking and their private
choices. The controversy between emotivism and prescriptivism on the one
hand and their critics on the other thus expresses the fundamental moral
situation of our society. (Short History, p. 266)

In this discussion, MacIntyre seems primarily interested in combating
the view that moral concepts are timeless and unhistorical, a view that he
regards as giving support illegitimately to a range of “absolutist” views held
by philosophers as different as Jean-Paul Sartre, the British emotivists, and
the British naturalists. Emotivists and prescriptivists typically, according to

try to absolutize their own individualist morality and that of the age, by
means of an appeal to concepts, just as much as their critics try to absolutize
their own moralities by means of an appeal to conceptual considerations. But

these attempts could only succeed if moral concepts were indeed timeless
and unhistorical and if there were only one available set of moral concepts.
One virtue of the history of moral philosophy is that it shows us that this
is not true and that moral concepts themselves have a history. To under-
stand this is to be liberated from any false absolutist claims. (Short History,
p. 269)

These are the concluding words of the Short History and they again rep-
resent an important MacIntyrean theme “ that moral philosophers of all
stripes, absolutist or skeptical, cognitivists or noncognitivists, frequently at-
tempt to defend their views by appealing to some features of the conceptual
structure of moral thought and talk. MacIntyre has always contended that
such arguments that depend on the primacy of the conceptual in ethics fail.
His claim is not that conceptual investigations are not important, but that
they cannot be ¬rst philosophy in ethics. Concepts are prey to historical
development and philosophical transformations just as much as forms of
life and particular practices are. Moral language and styles of argument are
just one entr´ e into understanding the moral life “ an important way in,
to be sure, but not the only way and certainly not a privileged way. The
investigations of historians and social scientists, as well as the imaginative
works of literature that use these concepts, are as important as the bare ex-
amination of the concepts. There is no privileged access to the structure of
moral thought. Concepts always have a history and are subject to pressures
of various sorts.
This general picture of metaethics that emerges in the Short History is
explored in much more detail and extended in important respects in a series
of essays that MacIntyre writes over the next ¬ve years or so and that appear
in the second half of Against the Self-Images of the Age. In these essays, he is
especially concerned to come to grips with the prescriptivist views of R. M.
Hare, who had inherited the noncognitivist mantle from Stevenson and the
emotivists and who was the dominant ¬gure in metaethics throughout the
late 1950s and 1960s. His criticisms of Hare focus “ as one would expect “
on Hare™s view that the two central semantic features of morally evalu-
ative language are universalizability and prescriptivity. Hare argued that
one could identify these as the central semantic features of moral language
from a position that is neutral with regard to any substantive moral views.
Hare also claimed that, while the results of this semantic investigation were
morally neutral (i.e., did not entail, even together with additional “factual”
premises, any substantive moral views), these semantic facts about moral
language nevertheless gave us access to a distinctive method of approaching
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

moral con¬‚ict and moral uncertainty that goes some way toward resolving
these con¬‚icts in a reasonable fashion.
MacIntyre™s particular criticisms of this view (as found especially in
“What Morality Is Not” and “Imperatives, Reasons for Action and Morals”)
are complex and subtle, but grow out of two central points. First, he con-
tinues to argue, as we have seen above, that it is mistaken to suppose that
“moral language” can be regarded as a timeless object of analysis existing
outside historical change and differences in social practice. Hare talks about
“our moral concepts,” but MacIntyre argues that we must recognize the in-
dexical character of this phrase. In support of this point, he discusses in
some detail particular historical episodes (as he had already done in Short
History) in which we can see moral language developing and changing under
the pressure of historical contingency and philosophical argument. There
is no simple truth about “the” meaning of our moral concepts, and any at-
tempt like Hare™s to defend some simple truth on this matter will substitute
ideology or conventional moral opinion for genuine semantic analysis.
Second, MacIntyre argues that even if there were some hope of giving
“the” correct account of the meaning and use of moral language, Hare™s
particular attempt to characterize the meaning of moral language as essen-
tially one of prescribing behavior or attitudes overlooks the rich variety of
uses of this language, even if we restrict ourselves to the uses of language in
contemporary cultures. As MacIntyre says, “there are a great variety of uses
to which moral utterance may be put, none of which can claim the title of
˜the™ function of moral valuation” (1957c, p. 101). He goes on to list “some
of the tasks which even so familiar a form of moral judgment as ˜X ought
to do Y™ may be set.” These tasks include:

1. The expression of indignation or other violent or mild emotion.
2. The expression of commands or exhortations.
3. The appraisal of actions.
4. The giving of advice.
5. Persuasion.
6. The expression of one™s own principles.

MacIntyre comments after giving this list:

This incomplete catalogue of uses of “ought” in simple sentences such
as “X ought to do Y” has one main point: moral philosophy to date has
been insuf¬ciently lexicographical. Even a partial enumeration of the dif-
ferences already noted between ¬rst-, second-, and third-person uses of

“ought” . . . should make us conscious of the need for a far wider range of
patterns of analysis than any contemporary writer has so far offered. (1957c,
p. 102)

It is important to note about this line of argument that MacIntyre is
not developing the kind of argument that was frequently brought against
Hare and the metaethical tradition generally “ the argument, that is, that
metaethics was mistaken in placing semantic investigations at the heart of
ethics, thereby diverting the attention of moral philosophy from its real
concerns, such as concerns to develop comprehensive normative theories
or to discuss genuine moral dilemmas present in contemporary culture.
MacIntyre™s grounds for objecting are rather that the semantic investiga-
tions have not been done well enough “ or as he puts it in the quotation
above, “moral philosophy to date has been insuf¬ciently lexicographical.”
Hare goes wrong not in aiming to clarify the meaning of moral and more
broadly evaluative language and, by doing so, to illuminate the structures
of moral argument; rather, he goes wrong in doing so badly. He is insuf¬-
ciently attentive to the historical changes in our moral language and to the
variety of uses of moral language. An adequate (“genuinely lexicographi-
cal”) account of moral language would need to be more historically aware
and more nuanced in its approach to the variegated uses of our vocabulary
for moral conversation and deliberation.
MacIntyre goes some way in the direction of modeling a genuinely
lexicographical investigation of moral language in the work that follows
his largely critical work of Hare. This later work, ¬rst introduced in two
remarkable articles, “Ought” and “Some More About ˜Ought™,” and then
later developed in the opening chapters of After Virtue, attempts simulta-
neously to illustrate what it would be to do genuine metaethics and why the
deep failures in metaethics in the twentieth-century are symptoms of im-
portant features of our moral situation. MacIntyre™s concern in “Ought” is
to investigate a particular case of metaethical disagreement “ that between
Harean prescriptivists and Footean naturalists “ and to attempt to draw
from this investigation some general lessons for thinking about procedure
in metaethics. He is struck, as were many at this time, by the deep impasse
between these two views. Both prescriptivism and naturalism had been
developed and elaborated by able philosophers using highly sophisticated
arguments. Each was familiar with the other™s objections to the favored
view and armed with responses to these objections. The arguments for and
against each view had been honed in countless philosophical articles and
been tested in dialectical exchanges at philosophical meetings.
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

MacIntyre, writing in the early 1970s after this debate had been in full
swing for over a decade, is skeptical, however, that we are even in sight of a
resolution to this dispute. While he admits that “there has been no lack of
peacemakers attempting to patch up things between them,” he is con¬dent
that “no conclusive argument is found at any point in these exchanges; con-
clusive, that is, in terms other than those of the party that propounds them”
(1971d, p. 140). The reason for his con¬dence that, given the present terms
of the dispute, no resolution of the disagreement will be forthcoming, is
that each of the sides in this disagreement are so expert at redescribing
the facts that would resolve this disagreement “ and redescribing them, of
course, in a fashion that tends to support the favored conclusions of their
side. Prescriptivists, in developing their arguments, are allowed to describe
the “linguistic facts” in a way favorable to their view of the conceptual
landscape, while naturalists play the same game from their quite differ-
ent naturalistic perspective. Given this situation, MacIntyre argues that it
follows that

if the argument between prescriptivism and naturalism is not to be an empty
and pointless contest, which has by the very virtuosity of the contestants in
the performance of the task of redescription been deprived of that indepen-
dent subject matter, the characterization of which was the sole point of the
whole enterprise, one prerequisite is that as far as possible both theories are
matched against the facts, so far as these can be independently delineated,
and the tendency to redescribe the facts in accordance with the require-
ments of the rival theories must be curbed as far as possible. (MacIntyre
1971d, 141)

MacIntyre™s suggestion, then, is that the seemingly interminable dis-
putes within metaethics in twentieth-century Anglophone moral philos-
ophy can be settled only if we can hold these theories up to the facts,
“independently delineated,” where independence is to be understood as in-
dependence from the presuppositions and biases of the contending theories.
But what could be this perspective, independent of improper philosophical
in¬‚uence, that might serve as the neutral arbiter in these debates? Not sur-
prisingly, MacIntyre opts for a historically and sociologically sophisticated
lexicography. What is required, that is, is that we approach

the linguistic facts at ¬rst as much as possible in the mode of the lexicog-
rapher rather than of the philosopher; by next setting the linguistic facts
in their social contexts; and ¬nally by asking whether this does not en-
able us to discriminate, in relation to the theories of both prescriptivism

and naturalism, the types of moral situation of which each doctrine is the
natural and convincing explanation and analysis from the types of moral
situation which one or the other doctrine has to distort. In so doing we
shall treat these doctrines as hypotheses, which invoke a stylized model of
argument to explain the actual patterns of moral speech and controversy.
(MacIntyre 1971d, p. 141)

In both “Ought” and “Some More About ˜Ought™,” MacIntyre strives
to put on the table some of the sociological and historical materials that
will open up the kind of genuinely lexicographical investigation that he
has argued will be necessary if progress in settling metaethical disputes is
to be possible. In “Ought” he introduces and develops in great detail a
taxonomy of uses of ˜ought™ rooted in close attention to social practices
and historical contingencies. He suggests that there are three stages in the
use of the English word ˜ought™: “a ¬rst in which ˜ought™ and ˜owe™ are
indistinguishable; a second in which ˜ought™ has become an auxiliary verb,
useable with an in¬nitive to give advice; and a third in which the use of
˜ought™ has become unconditional”(MacIntyre 1971d, p. 143). He further
suggests that there are particular social contexts in which these different uses
of ˜ought™ most naturally ¬nd their home and within which the nuances of
their usage can be examined. He looks in some detail at the Icelandic culture
of the Norse sagas as a place where linguistic equivalences of our ˜ought™
never go beyond his ¬rst stage of usage, the culture of classical Greece as a
place where usage never goes beyond the second stage, and modern culture
where “it is only perhaps that we have ˜oughts™ of all three stages marked
by the dictionary” (MacIntyre 1971d, p. 152). MacIntyre™s discussions of
the different social contexts in which these usages of ˜ought™ most naturally
¬nd their homes is subtle and detailed, and it is impossible to summarize it
brie¬‚y without oversimpli¬cation.
The main conclusion of this discussion of relevance to MacIntyre™s
general attitude toward metaethical disagreement, however, is that
“naturalism and prescriptivism are most plausibly understood not as rival
accounts of the whole ¬eld of moral or even of evaluative discourse, but as
accounts of different types of moral and evaluative discourse” (MacIntyre
1971d, p. 154). Oversimplifying grandly, we can say that MacIntyre™s
claim is that neither naturalism nor prescriptivism can adequately account
for the ¬rst stage of ˜ought™, that naturalistic theories give a plausible
account of the second stage of ˜ought™, and that prescriptivist theories give
a plausible account of the decayed form of the third stage of ˜ought™. But
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

since both views claim to give an adequate account of ˜ought™ simpliciter,
both are wrong. MacIntyre rejects not only the metaethical views of the
prescriptivist but also those of their naturalistic rivals “ and he rejects them
both for the same general reason. They are one-sided in their focus on
a narrow range of examples and fail to appreciate the full complexity of
the use of moral language in modernity. Of the naturalists who refuse to
take seriously the late-developing, unconditional ˜ought™, he says, “The
nursery, like classical Greece or medieval Europe, is one of the natural
homes of naturalism. But societies change and people grow up” (MacIntyre
1971d, 154).
His criticisms of the prescriptivists, however, are even harsher. In
“Some More About ˜Ought™,” he focuses on the unconditional ˜ought™
of modernity, especially as it appears in the secularized moral vocabulary
of ninteenth-century moral earnestness and is canonically analyzed in
Prichard. Of this ˜ought™, MacIntyre argues that it is so cut off from the
presuppositions that could have made its use intelligible that it can at most
express a kind of superstition and be used to bully and deceive. Of the
“Prichardian or distinctively moral ˜ought™, ” MacIntyre says, it

was a ghost and it is a ghost that still walks in certain quarters, although more
and more obviously, like other ghosts, a survival. Yet so long as it survives,
morality involves a degree of bluff and deception that can only have the
effect of engendering cynicism whenever it is once more expressed. This
paper is therefore not only an attempt at analysis; it is also hopefully an
exorcism. (MacIntyre 1971f, pp. 171“172)

Prescriptivist views “ and noncognitivist views, in general “ go wrong in
that, while they correctly diagnose intuitionist expressions of the moral
˜ought™ as mere bluff and deception, they replace the mistaken views of the
Prichardian intuitionists with the view that all attempts to give ˜ought™ judg-
ments a cognitive role are equally mistaken. MacIntyre says of Stevenson™s
emotivist view on this score what he might well have said about Hare™s
prescriptivism: “His theory is not a true theory of moral utterance, but a
true theory of intuitionist moral utterance, if we understand by intuition-
ism not merely the doctrine of a group of philosophers, but the doctrine
of a social milieu” (MacIntyre 1971f, p. 171). So in the end, prescrip-
tivists attempt to elevate to a general account of the meaning of ˜ought™
a true account of the meaning of ˜ought™ as it is confusedly used by certain
moderns, while naturalists attempt to elevate to a general account of the

meaning of ˜ought™ a true account of a certain usage of ˜ought™ at home
in classical Greek culture and the contemporary nursery. Both theories
are right about something, but neither is right about what it claims to be
right about. Both views aspire to give a general account of the meaning
of moral concepts and to draw from this account general methodological
guidelines for moral argument and deliberation. But both fail through their
parochial attention to only certain usages of our moral vocabulary, and both
defend approaches to moral argument that can only appear as one-sided
and out of touch with the real cultural situation of contemporary moral
MacIntyre™s metaethical journey from his ¬rst groping approach to these
problems in his master™s thesis to the sophisticated historical and sociologi-
cal discussions in “Ought” and “Some More About ˜Ought™ ” is one in which
the results of his work are largely negative. He argues that both the partic-
ular metaethical views on offer in contemporary philosophy and the whole
enterprise of an ahistorical metaethics are mistaken. Although he produces
some examples of what a suf¬ciently rich lexicography might be in these ar-
ticles in Self-Images, it is clear that the investigations he is there undertaking
go beyond the bounds of anything that can any longer be called metaethics.
These developments in his views of metaethics throughout the 1950s and up
to the 1970s are simultaneous with his intellectual engagements with con-
temporary Marxism, contemporary theology, and contemporary psycho-
analysis and the therapeutic professions more generally. He also explores
issues in action theory and the philosophy of the social sciences during this
period. Although these investigations are explored in other chapters in this
volume, we must note here that they all come together in a powerful way
in After Virtue, which MacIntyre was writing in the 1970s. In this book “
clearly the most important and in¬‚uential statement of MacIntyre™s views
up until its publication “ results from his metaethical investigations come
together with views he had developed in other areas of his work in an expo-
sition and defense of a radical attack on most of what constitutes modern
moral philosophy and in the beginning of a constructive account of a new
kind of moral philosophy. In some sense, the narrowly metaethical investi-
gations of the ¬rst quarter century of MacIntyre™s work are left behind in
his work in After Virtue and later, but in another sense that work is taken
up into a larger synthesis of thought. This synthesis moves MacIntyre™s
work quite radically from the metaethical context in which it began into
the context of the disputes among comprehensive normative theories that
come back to center stage in moral philosophy with the publication of John
Rawls™s A Theory of Justice in 1971.
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy


When After Virtue appeared in 1981, the revolution in normative theory
had been underway for a decade or so. John Rawls and his students had been
the primary proponents of a sophisticated and updated Kantian rationalism
that aimed to provide a philosophical foundation for liberal-democratic
political systems and to address some of the social dislocations of the 1960s.
New forms of consequentialism were also developed by a number of moral
philosophers, especially students of Hare™s such as Derek Par¬t and Peter
Singer, who seemed to understand before Hare did that his allegedly morally
neutral metaethical theory had mutated into a consequentialist normative
theory. The revival of these Kantian and consequentialist theories seemed
to many philosophers to exhaust the normative possibilities. Just as the
metaethical ¬eld had been dominated by the impasse between naturalism
and prescriptivism, it appeared that the normative possibilities would be
exhausted by broadly deontological and consequentialist possibilities.
It is one of the main themes of After Virtue that this picture of the
normative landscape as divided between warring deontological and con-
sequentialist alternatives is deeply ¬‚awed. In contrast, MacIntyre argues
that the contending deontological and consequentialist normative theories
are themselves to be understood as the decayed forms of Enlightenment
ethical theories that share much in common. In developing these views,
he deploys a complex set of considerations “ historical, sociological, and
conceptual “ that permanently expand the repertoire of contemporary eth-
ical theory. The appearance of After Virtue clearly marks a critical moment
in MacIntyre™s philosophical development. In the synthesis of his views
presented there, he draws together a number of strands of his thought de-
veloped over the previous thirty years and molds them into a powerful and
comprehensive attack on central features of modern culture and the style
of moral philosophy dominant within it.
In the twenty years since the publication of After Virtue, MacIntyre has
re¬ned and extended the comprehensive view ¬rst deployed there. In Whose
Justice? Which Rationality?, he re¬nes his historical account of the develop-
ment of ethics in a number of different ways and develops a comprehensive
account of how rational dialogue among competing traditions of normative
thought can occur. In Three Rival Versions, he applies some of the lessons
taught in Whose Justice? to examine in detail the arguments among three
particular traditions of ethical thought “ the genealogist, the encyclopedist,
and the traditionalist. In his most recent book, Dependent Rational Animals,
he turns to a more detailed account of the human good and the virtues

associated with it. In all three of these books, he does not hesitate to correct
mistakes he acknowledges in his earlier work and to take his view in direc-
tions that seem to depart from earlier statements, but he is for the most
part still ¬lling in the outlines of the comprehensive view ¬rst adumbrated
in After Virtue. It is the urtext for MacIntyre™s later work.
A natural way to begin a discussion of MacIntyre™s mature contribution
to normative ethics would be to sort out the central questions and concerns
of contemporary normative ethics, to examine MacIntyre™s answers to these
questions, and to compare them with the answers given by his main com-
petitors in the contemporary dialogue. Since the normative revolution in
moral philosophy began some thirty years ago, there has developed a certain
canonical view of the ¬eld and its central questions into which some have
tried to ¬t MacIntyre in this way. The received story (vastly oversimpli¬ed)
goes something like this. There are four central contending positions in
the arena of normative ethics: (1) a deontological view, rooted in Kantian
rationalism or some form of contractarianism, which gives priority to the
right over the good and places rules in a privileged place at the heart of
normative theory; (2) a broadly consequentialist view, which places the no-
tion of maximizing good states of affairs in the privileged place at the heart
of normative theory; (3) virtue ethics, rooted in some broadly Aristotelian
or Humean conception of the virtues, which places the notion of a virtue
and the companion notions of human ¬‚ourishing or well functioning at the
heart of normative theory; and (4) anti-theory with regard to ethics, which
is skeptical of the ambitions of any of these views and skeptical especially
of the claims of moral philosophy to be able to vindicate rationally some
substantive conception of the good life for humans.
The contemporary literature in moral philosophy is replete with de-
velopments and slight variations of this taxonomy, and the standard intro-
ductions to normative ethics explore the arguments and counterarguments
brought by proponents of one or another of these normative conceptions
against their rivals. Normative ethics is largely constituted by this set of
positions and debates, and to characterize someone™s views in normative
ethics is to locate them within this framework. Like all taxonomies of areas
of inquiry or academic debate, this one gains plausibility from the fact that
it no longer merely describes the landscape in normative ethics but also
functions normatively to guide discussions. It is not part of the purpose of
this chapter to criticize this received view of the ¬eld of normative ethics,
but it is important to notice that MacIntyre™s views do not ¬t neatly into
it. He is frequently identi¬ed as a proponent of virtue ethics, but many of
those whose views are regarded as instances of virtue ethics are wary of his
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

views “ and rightly so. Unlike the idealized virtue theorist of the canonical
view, MacIntyre gives rules a central place and returns to the topic of the
place of rules in an adequate theory repeatedly. He is also frequently iden-
ti¬ed as an anti-theorist, but his strong commitment to moral realism and
his rejection of postmodernist perspectivist and relativist views put him at
odds with many others characterized in this way, although he shares many
of the anti-theorists™ critical views of the pretensions of much contemporary
normative theory.
If one cannot ¬nd a way into MacIntyre™s views on normative ethics
by locating him within the textbook categories in normative ethics, how
should one proceed? Without claiming that it is the only way, or even the
best way, I will proceed by examining the broad outline of the views that he
deploys in After Virtue and develops in his later works. With this outline in
place, we can turn brie¬‚y to some critical remarks on the overall shape of
MacIntyre™s project.
After Virtue begins and ends on an apocalyptic note. It opens with an
evocation of a picture of contemporary culture as one of moral and ethical
fragments, the product of some cultural disaster, now forgotten by most,
but one which was responsible for the current disordered state of moral dis-
course in contemporary culture.7 This disordered state, though invisible to
the untrained eye, is most in evidence in the deep moral disagreements that
characterize contemporary moral discussions.8 MacIntyre examines three
areas of moral dispute in contemporary culture “ debates over the moral
character of war, of abortion, and of economic justice “ and argues that in
each case valid arguments of various sorts can be brought for a variety of
con¬‚icting positions on each of these issues. Though these arguments are
valid, their premises differ and are in fact incommensurable and drawn from
different historical sources. The depth of moral disagreement endemic
to contemporary culture, and the failure of the standard techniques for
resolving these disagreements, are the primary data for MacIntyre™s analysis
of contemporary culture and for the approach to normative ethical theory
that rests on this analysis. Those theorists who disagree with MacIntyre
about this matter will ¬nd much of what he claims to follow from it
MacIntyre argues that there are four different responses one might
make to his claims about the depth of moral disagreement. One might, of
course, simply deny that moral disagreement is as deep and irresolvable as
he suggests. This would be, on his view, simply to deny the obvious. Second,
one might agree with his description but argue that this is always and in-
evitably the case, since the expression of moral views is simply a matter of

the expression of moral attitudes that are a function of one™s upbringing and
the social forces impinging on one. Even if there were agreement in these
attitudes it would be merely a contingent matter, but, given the complexity
and diversity of environments within which human beings are socialized,
we should not expect such convergence. Since this second response is that
favored by emotivists and other noncognitivists who had been so in¬‚uential
in the metaethical debates earlier in the century, we can call it the emotivist
response. Third, one might admit that moral disagreement is deep, but
deny that it is impossible to rise above these disagreements, and appeal to
certain rational principles, available to everyone, with the capacity to bring
agreement on even the most contested moral disputes. The resources of the
Enlightenment moral theories, Kantian rationalism, or Benthamite conse-
quentialism would be the prime examples of such theories that attempt, as
it were, to put the fragments back together. The contemporary resurgence
of normative theory (and its extension into the area of applied ethics) bears
witness to the fact that this hope is alive and well in contemporary culture.
This response might be called the Enlightenment Response. Finally, one
can claim, as MacIntyre does, that the current state of moral disagreement is
as he described it, but that it is neither a universal feature of ethical discourse
as the emotivist claims, nor a problem remediable by the proper application
of normative ethical theory as neoKantians and consequentialists claim. It
is rather a particular malady of contemporary culture to be explained by the
history of this culture that will vindicate the “fragmentation thesis.” Moral
disagreement is so deep and so little amenable to the techniques of rational
discussion because discussants are beginning with ill-assorted fragments of
a traditional, largely coherent approach whose coherence was shattered by
certain events in the history of modernity. This approach need not deny
that there are more or less rational ways of holding and defending ones
moral views. It must, however, deny that these rational techniques are of
the sort favored by the Enlightenment response.
The agenda of MacIntyre™s ethics is set by this picture of contemporary
moral disagreement and the cultural and philosophical responses to it. The
major themes in his later views on ethics emerge from his attempt to vindi-
cate this picture of moral disagreement and also to defend an appropriate
response to it. MacIntyre says that the two major tasks of After Virtue are to
defend his particular characterization of modernity as a culture of fragments
and incommensurable disagreement and to “identify and describe the lost
morality of the past and evaluate its claims to objectivity and authority”
(After Virtue, p. 22). The sweep of MacIntyre™s argument in carrying out
these tasks is breathtaking and its details and nuances far exceed the capacity
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

of this survey paper to capture. It is important to look, however brie¬‚y, at
the manner in which MacIntyre pursues these two tasks.

MacIntyre™s Characterization of Modern Culture

As we noted above, MacIntyre takes the fact of fundamental and incommen-
surable moral disagreement to be the most obvious feature of contemporary
moral discourse. We have also seen, however, that he rejects the emotivist
view that attempts to explain this moral disagreement by defending the
view that the meaning of moral terms is exhausted by their role in express-
ing speakers™ attitudes and evoking similar attitudes in others. While he
rejects emotivism as an account of the meaning of moral terms (and draws
on familiar arguments in the literature to do so), he argues that emotivism
is an accurate portrayal of the use of moral terms, at least within certain
dominant social groups in contemporary culture. While moral terms re-
tain a meaning that allows them to assert moral claims that enjoy a certain
independent and objective force, they are typically used in contemporary
culture simply to express subjective aims.9 There is a tension then in the use
of moral language in contemporary culture between an objective meaning
and an emotivist use. MacIntyre characterizes what such a tension in the
contemporary use of moral language would be like in the following way:

The meaning and use of moral expressions were, or at the very least had
become, radically discrepant with each other. Meaning and use would be
at odds in such a way that meaning would tend to conceal use. We could
not safely infer what someone who uttered a moral judgment was doing
merely by listening to what he said. Moreover the agent himself might well
be among those for whom use was concealed by meaning. He might well,
precisely because he was self-conscious about the meaning of the words
that he used, be assured that he was appealing to independent impersonal
criteria, when all that he was in fact doing was expressing his feelings to
others in a manipulative way. (After Virtue, p. 14)

MacIntyre argues for this complex condition of moral language in
modernity in two different ways. He argues against the emotivist account of
meaning using standard philosophical arguments familiar in the metaethical
discussions; he argues for the emotivist account of use by developing a com-
prehensive picture of contemporary social life that can only be explained,
he thinks, if we live in an emotivist culture in which moral terms are char-
acteristically used simply to express one™s attitudes in a manipulative way.
Since “every moral philosophy presupposes a sociology,” all genuine moral

philosophies must be capable of being socially embodied, and every society
will embody some moral philosophy. And he claims that a close examina-
tion of contemporary culture suggests that it socially embodies emotivism,
even if the moral language we use in contemporary culture retains a kind of
meaning that suggests impersonality and objectivity in our moral discourse.
MacIntyre argues that the key mark of an emotivist culture is “the fact
that emotivism entails the obliteration of any genuine distinction between
manipulative and nonmanipulative social relations” (After Virtue, p. 23). If
moral expressions are used simply to express my attitudes and to shape the
attitudes of others, it is dif¬cult to see how this distinction could be drawn.
The primary indication that contemporary culture has indeed obliterated
this distinction is the central role played in it by certain social roles “ called
by MacIntyre “characters” “ that function “to morally legitimate a mode of
social existence” (After Virtue, p. 29).10 MacIntyre identi¬es the characters
central to contemporary culture as the manager, the therapist, and the aes-
thete, and argues that those who embody those roles fail to acknowledge
the distinction between manipulative and nonmanipulative behavior. As he
puts it, “In our own time emotivism is a theory embodied in characters who
all share the emotivist view of the distinction between rational and non-
rational discourse, but who represent the embodiment of that distinction
in very different social contexts” (After Virtue, p. 30).
The emotivist character of contemporary culture also shows itself in
the concept of the self widely accepted by many prominent contemporary
theorists. MacIntyre says of this self:

The speci¬cally modern self, the self that I have called emotivist, ¬nds no
limits set to that on which it may pass judgment for such limits could only
derive from rational criteria for evaluation and, as we have seen, the emo-
tivist self lacks any such criteria. Everything may be criticized from whatever
standpoint the self has adopted, including the self™s choice of standpoint to
adopt. It is in this capacity of the self to evade any necessary identi¬cation
with any particular contingent state of affairs that some modern philoso-
phers, both analytical and existentialist, have seen the essence of moral
agency. (After Virtue, p. 34)

MacIntyre argues that it can only seem plausible to take this concept of the
self as the essence of moral agency if our culture is indeed emotivist.
MacIntyre™s detailed historical account of modern moral philosophy is
also intended to provide further support for the claim that contemporary
culture is an emotivist culture. This history is primarily intended to explore
two different matters “ ¬rst, how we came to be in the fragmented condition
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

in which we ¬nd ourselves, and second, why the Enlightenment theories,
which were intended to address our modern dif¬culties, not only failed but
had to fail.
In Chapters 4“6 of After Virtue, leading up to the hinge chapter entitled
“Nietzsche or Aristotle,” he gives an account of the history of modern
moral philosophy in reverse order, beginning with Kierkegaard and moving
backward through the Enlightenment project and its predecessors. The
Enlightenment project was ¬‚awed from its inception in that it set itself
a task that could not be carried out. It was asked to put back together a
puzzle in which certain pieces were missing; indeed, it was a condition of
any adequate solution to this puzzle that it proceed without the missing
In this historical account, he argues that both Kantian rationalism and
Humean desire-based ethics “ the two main instances of an Enlightenment
morality “ grow out of a breakdown in a classical synthesis that found
a justi¬cation for moral rules in a structure that combined (in its most
complete form in the Thomist synthesis) a rich teleological conception of
human life together with a notion of Divine Law. The forces unleashed by
the scienti¬c revolution and the Reformation, however, made this justi¬-
catory structure untenable. Our ability to know and act in accord with the
divine law was denied by the voluntarism of the Protestant reformers and
their acceptance of a strong doctrine of original sin, while the teleological
conception of nature at the heart of the classical conception of human life
was abandoned with the acceptance of the new mechanistic science. With
these classical props for the moral rules no longer available, it was inevitable
that some alternative structure for justifying the moral rules should be


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