ŮÚū. 5
(‚ŮŚ„Ó 7)



sought, and the Humean and Kantian constructions are the fruits of this
MacIntyre argues that these Enlightenment responses had to fail pre-
cisely because the project of the Enlightenment with regard to the justiÔ¬Āca-
tion of moral rules was incoherent. The moral rules that the Enlightenment
theories aimed to justify were crafted as corrective devices for human nature
as we Ô¬Ānd it. They arose as devices for perfecting human beings whose nat-
ural state is imperfect in various ways. The perfective process (whether in
Aristotle‪s pagan view or in Aquinas‪s Christian one) involved a movement
toward an idealized end of human life ‚Ä“ a movement toward the human
good. It was only within a broadly teleological conception of human life
that such a conception of the moral rules was coherent. In the absence of
some rich notion of perfected humanity ‚Ä“ a notion underwritten by clas-
sical teleology and the notion of divine law ‚Ä“ the only remaining basis for

grounding the moral rules are features of human nature in its unperfected
state. The major Enlightenment views accordingly attempted to anchor
moral rules either in the structures of our passions (an option taken by
Hume and his followers) or in the structure of reason (an option taken by
Kant and his followers). It is the Ô¬Ānal breakdown of these attempts ‚Ä“ seen
clearly by Kierkegaard and Nietzsche ‚Ä“ that explains the fragmented nature
of contemporary moral discourse.
MacIntyre ends his description of the moral fragmentation of contem-
porary culture and his historical explanation of this fragmentation with
the presentation of a stark alternative for contemporary moral theorists ‚Ä“
Aristotle or Nietzsche? This question grows out of the claims in the Ô¬Ārst
half of After Virtue about the lessons to be learned from the careful ex-
amination of the history of modern moral philosophy. He claims to have
shown that the only defensible views in moral philosophy are a return
to the broadly Aristotelian conception of ethics or a Nietzchean view.
Nietzsche, MacIntyre claims, saw clearly the utter failure of the ambitions
of Enlightenment moralists like Kant and Hume. He also thought that
their failure gave us reason to reject any attempt at a rational vindication
of morality. MacIntyre describes the position of the moral philosopher in
late modernity in this way:

The defensibility of the Nietzschean position turns in the end on the answer
to the question: was it right in the Ô¬Ārst place to reject Aristotle? For if
Aristotle‚Ä™s position in ethics and politics ‚Ä“ or something very like it ‚Ä“ could
be sustained, the whole Nietzschean enterprise would be pointless. This is
because the power of Nietzsche‪s position depends upon the truth of one
central thesis: that all rational vindications of morality manifestly fail and
that belief in the tenets of morality needs to be explained in terms of a set of
rationalizations which conceal the fundamentally non-rational phenomena
of the will. My own argument obliges me to agree with Nietzsche that the
philosophers of the Enlightenment never succeeded in providing grounds
for doubting his central thesis: his epigrams are even deadlier than his
extended arguments. But, if my earlier argument is correct, that failure
itself was nothing other than an historical sequel to the rejection of the
Aristotelian tradition. And thus the key question does indeed become: can
Aristotle‪s ethics, or something very like it, after all be vindicated? (After
Virtue, pp. 117‚Ä“18)

In asking us to choose between Aristotle and Nietzsche, of course,
MacIntyre does not intend us to focus narrowly on the writings of these two
philosophers. He treats each of them as types. Aristotle “provides a central
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

point of focus for the tradition of the virtues which held the resources of
a whole tradition of acting, thinking and discourse of which Aristotle‪s is
only a part, a tradition of which I spoke earlier as ‚Ęthe classical tradition‚Ä™ and
whose view of man I called ‚Ęthe classical view of man‚Ä™ ‚ÄĚ (After Virtue, p. 119).
In the same way, Nietzsche represents the tradition of emotivist and exis-
tentialist interpreters of morality. So instead of Nietzsche versus Aristotle,
one could regard this choice as one between the classical tradition in moral
philosophy and those forms of emotivism, existentialism, constructivism,
and postmodernism that are so widely defended within contemporary moral
The Ô¬Ārst half of After Virtue presents the negative pole of MacIntyre‚Ä™s
moral theory. He develops and defends a comprehensive picture of the
state of contemporary social life as it is lived out in groups dominated by
the thoughts and attitudes characteristic of late modernity. He also seeks to
identify and discuss in some detail the moral philosophy that he argues is
embodied in this culture. Finally, he relates a complicated history of modern
social life and of modern moral philosophy that aims to explain how we
arrived at the thoughts and attitudes that we characteristically display. He
also believes that he has demonstrated in this discussion why the two most
prominent normative theories on offer in academic moral philosophy ‚Ä“
consequentialism and Kantian rationalism ‚Ä“ not only fail, but must fail. If
he is right in all this, the stark option he leaves us with at the end of Chapter 9
is real. Either the failure of the Enlightenment normative theories make way
for a Nietzschean morality of self-assertion, or we must Ô¬Ānd a way to restate
in a rationally defensible way the classical Aristotelian ethics of virtue, the
rejection of which in earlier centuries inspired the Enlightenment options
that have, in turn, failed. He turns to this further task in the second half of
After Virtue.

MacIntyre‪s Defense of the Aristotelian Alternative

The hinge chapter of After Virtue is followed by another historical account
of the tradition of the virtues, told in a forward sequence this time and taking
us from an account of the virtues in heroic society, through the development
of the virtues in classical Greece and in Christian Europe, up to their emer-
gence in slightly transformed form in modernity. We need only note here
that this account of the history of the virtues demonstrates that there are
enormous differences in treatments of the virtues in this tradition. Differ-
ent lists of virtues are found within the tradition, but, most importantly, so
are alternative accounts of what a virtue is. MacIntyre is struck especially by

the deep divergence among the accounts of virtues found in heroic culture,
in which virtues are those properties of human agents that allow them to
discharge their social roles; the accounts in classical and Christian culture,
in which virtues are properties necessary for human beings to achieve their
telos, either natural or supernatural; and the account of the virtues of such
typical moderns as Benjamin Franklin, for whom virtues are regarded as
instrumental means for achieving worldly or heavenly success. The ques-
tion raised for MacIntyre by this diversity is, “are we or are we not able to
disentangle from these rival and various claims a unitary core concept of
the virtues of which we can give a more compelling account than any of
the other accounts so far?‚ÄĚ (After Virtue, p. 186). Since MacIntyre has
organized the second half of After Virtue around the project of recon-
structing the core of the Aristotelian tradition of the virtues, it is essential
that he demonstrate that there is a unifying core underneath this surface
MacIntyre believes that such a unifying account is possible and gives a
schematic account of it in the remaining chapters. While he regards this
unifying account as being expressive of the tradition of the virtues of which
Aristotle was the most prominent advocate, his idealized account departs
from Aristotle in a number of different ways. Most important, MacIntyre
suggests that an updated account of the virtues will have to dispense with
Aristotle‚Ä™s metaphysical biology ‚Ä“ the metaphysical theory which provides
the heart of the teleological account of nature, the loss of which is largely
responsible for bringing about the crisis in the classical picture of morality.
He also recognizes that he will have to reject Aristotle‪s commitment to
the unity of the virtues and his commitment to the Greek polis as the only
adequate setting for the virtues.
Macintyre‪s general strategy for developing a broadly Aristotelian ac-
count of the virtues is to locate the virtues in a socially constituted context
now that the metaphysical basis for the traditional Aristotelian conception
is no longer available. The social context is constituted by three levels of
social organization ‚Ä“ those of human practices, the narrative unity of hu-
man life, and the traditions in which our lives are embedded. Although this
chapter cannot examine in detail each of these notions, it is important to
notice that each situates the choices of human beings in a framework much
richer than that in which the emotivist self of late modernity operates.
MacIntyre‚Ä™s proposal to deÔ¬Āne the virtues by locating them within
these layered contexts is the key to his defense of the broadly Aristotelian
alternative to Nietzschean self-assertion. Although each of these notions
is discussed in great detail by MacIntyre, we can here only comment on
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

their main features and their signiÔ¬Ācance for his overall project. Practices
are deÔ¬Āned by MacIntyre in one of the most well-known ‚Ä“ not to say
notorious ‚Ä“ sentences in After Virtue:

By a practice I am going to mean any coherent and complex form of socially
established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that
form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those stan-
dards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially deÔ¬Ānitive of, that
form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence,
and human conceptions of the ends and goods involved, are systematically
extended. (After Virtue, p. 187)

Examples of practices given by MacIntyre are farming, physics, politics, and
other similarly complicated spheres of human activity. Of Ô¬Ārst importance
is MacIntyre‪s claim that practices make possible the achievement of
goods internal to them. In contrast to what he calls ‚Äúexternal‚ÄĚ goods ‚Ä“ for
example, money, status, and prestige ‚Ä“ internal goods are not objects of
competition and can be recognized as goods ‚Ä“ and realized ‚Ä“ only by those
who fully participate in practices. Virtues are required for full participation
in practices in order (1) to deÔ¬Āne our relation to others within practices,
(2) to deÔ¬Āne our relation to past participants, and (3) to allow us to resist
the corruption of practices by institutions. At this Ô¬Ārst level, then, virtues
are to be understood as those dispositions to act that allow us to participate
fully in practices and to achieve the goods internal to them.
The notion of a practice, however, is not sufÔ¬Ācient to fully deÔ¬Āne a
virtue. We may need to criticize a particular practice or to understand how
participation in it might contribute to the overall good of a human life.
MacIntyre is particularly insistent that a good human life is not just partic-
ipation in a series of arbitrarily chosen practices. These difÔ¬Āculties move
the discussion to the second level of the social underpinning of the virtues.
MacIntyre argues that contemporary culture, as well as contemporary phi-
losophy, encourages us to think of a human life as a mere series of episodes
connected by the thinnest sort of physical and psychological continuity.
He suggests that we should rather regard the unity of a human life as the
narrative unity of a quest. In developing this notion, MacIntyre draws on
the medieval notion of a quest in which the object is not determined by a
fully speciÔ¬Āed or well-deÔ¬Āned end but is itself a quest for the good life for
man. But what is this good life? MacIntyre deÔ¬Ānes it as ‚Äúthe life spent in
seeking for the good life for man, and the virtues necessary for the seeking
are those which will enable us to understand what more and what else the
good life for man is‚ÄĚ (After Virtue, p. 219).

Practices and the narrative unity of a life, however, are still insufÔ¬Ācient
to provide a full setting for the virtues. Both practices and the forms of
narrative quest that give unity to our lives have histories, and the histori-
cal background for these features of the social setting for human lives are
organized into traditions. MacIntyre deÔ¬Ānes a tradition as ‚Äúan historically
extended, socially embodied argument, and an argument precisely in part
about the goods which constitute that tradition‚ÄĚ (After Virtue, p. 222), and
he argues that virtues are necessary to sustain traditions and to govern our
relation to them.11
MacIntyre‪s account of the virtues, then, which he claims captures the
heart of the Aristotelian tradition while eschewing Aristotle‪s resort to meta-
physical biology, is constituted by this layered involvement of the virtues
in the contents of practices, narrative unity, and tradition. He sums up this
account in the following way:
The virtues Ô¬Ānd their point and purpose not only in sustaining those re-
lationships necessary if the variety of goods internal to practices are to be
achieved and not only in sustaining the form of an individual life in which
that individual may seek out his or her good as the good of his or her whole
life, but also in sustaining those traditions which provide both practices and
individual lives with their necessary historical context. (After Virtue, p. 223)

This account of the layered social world of practice, narrative unity, and
tradition is not intended merely to provide a frame for the virtues. It is also
intended to provide an alternative sociology to that of the emotivist culture
MacIntyre had depicted in the Ô¬Ārst half of the book. In an important sense,
he opposes his social world of practice, narrative unity, and tradition to the
social world of the manager, the therapist, and the aesthete. But if he has now
given content to the stark option that stands at the hinge of After Virtue ‚Ä“
Nietzsche or Aristotle? ‚Ä“ what are the crucial arguments for determining
which option to pick? How do we determine the superior view? How can
either view rationally vindicate itself?12 There are, of course, throughout
his work a number of particular arguments brought for or against particular
positions implicated either in the Nietzschean position or the Aristotelian,
but MacIntyre admits at the end of After Virtue that he lacks the resources
in this book for fully defending his favored Aristotelian option. He argues
that if philosophical disputes are to be settled it is necessary to stand back
from the disputes and
ask in a systematic way what the appropriate rational procedures are for set-
tling this particular kind of dispute. It is my own view that the time has come
once more when it is imperative to perform this task for moral philosophy;
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

but I do not pretend to have embarked upon it in this present book. My
negative and positive evaluations of particular arguments do indeed pre-
suppose a systematic, although here unstated, account of rationality. (After
Virtue, p. 260)

MacIntyre takes up this task in work subsequent to After Virtue, es-
pecially in the Ô¬Ānal hundred pages of Whose Justice? He develops there
a comprehensive account of what he calls tradition-based inquiry that he
thinks best captures the ‚Äúappropriate rational procedures‚ÄĚ applicable to the
deepest disputes in moral philosophy. This account of rationality is dis-
cussed in some detail in another chapter in this volume, but I will turn to
some critical discussion of it in the Ô¬Ānal section of this chapter.


Although we have hardly done justice to the full complexity of MacIntyre‪s
treatment of ethics (indeed, one might argue that even he has not done
full justice to it) I would like to turn in this Ô¬Ānal section to some critical
response. But Ô¬Ārst we should note how enormously successful in many re-
spects MacIntyre‪s contribution to moral philosophy has been. After Virtue
has been one of the best-selling books of academic philosophy in the last half
century, and its inÔ¬‚uence, along with the additional impact of MacIntyre‚Ä™s
more recent work, has been as considerable as the number of books sold.
MacIntyre‪s attempt to weave his philosophical theses together with an his-
torical account of modern ethics has surely been one of the major forces
turning the attention of other moral philosophers to the history of their
subject. The vigorous and high-quality scholarly work done in the history
of ethics in the last two decades has been spurred to a considerable extent, I
believe, by the desire either to correct what are perceived as the weaknesses
in MacIntyre‪s account or to support his interpretations. In this respect,
MacIntyre‚Ä™s inÔ¬‚uence on the history of ethics is much like the inÔ¬‚uence
of Thomas Kuhn (1962) on the history of science. Like Kuhn, MacIntyre
forced others to do careful history in order to defend their own claims
against his attacks. After MacIntyre one can no longer defend a compre-
hensive normative theory responsibly without relating one‪s defense to the
history of the subject.13
His work has also been one of the major forces in turning the attention of
moral philosophers to a closer focus on the virtues and their history. In doing
this, he follows the lead of others, notably Anscombe and Geach, but it was
MacIntyre more than anyone else who brought the importance of the virtues

to the attention of the broader culture. His work has also been enormously
inÔ¬‚uential outside the narrow world of academic moral philosophy. His im-
pact on contemporary moral theology, as well as social and political theory,
has been especially important. Although he has attempted to disassociate
his views from a number of popularizing movements ‚Ä“ especially that asso-
ciated with certain popular forms of communitarianism (see, for example,
MacIntyre 1991b and 1995a) ‚Ä“ his work continues to be invoked in sup-
port of a number of political, social, and religious agendas. It is difÔ¬Ācult to
name an Anglophone moral philosopher writing in the second half of the
twentieth century, other than John Rawls, whose inÔ¬‚uence on the broader
culture has been as great as that of MacIntyre.
Despite this inÔ¬‚uence, MacIntyre has found few disciples who follow his
lead as closely as do the students of such other contemporary Ô¬Āgures as John
Rawls and Derek ParÔ¬Āt. It is part of his view, of course, that if he is right
in his analysis of contemporary culture and the role of moral philosophers
in it, one should expect his view to be widely rejected.14 Whether or not
he is right about this claim, it is certainly the case that his views in moral
philosophy have been met with a wide range of criticism. While our task
in this chapter is not to survey comprehensively this critical response, and
certainly not to contribute to it or defend MacIntyre against it (especially
since he has done such a good job of taking care of himself in these matters),
a quick examination of some of the most important criticism of his view
seems essential to understanding it.
Although there are many quite detailed studies of MacIntyre‪s account
of the history of ethics15 as well as of his account of particular matters such
as the nature of practices and traditions, or the good for human beings, I will
focus here on two broad responses to his overarching views in moral phi-
losophy developed since After Virtue.16 The Ô¬Ārst line of criticism is aimed at
MacIntyre‪s negative appraisal of contemporary culture and the moral phi-
losophy embodied in it, while the second raises questions about MacIntyre‪s
positive defense of his alternative to emotivist and Enlightenment models
of ethical theory. The Ô¬Ārst objection claims that MacIntyre‚Ä™s account of the
character of contemporary culture and, in particular, the disordered state
of moral discourse is simply wrong. This challenge can take two differ-
ent forms, at odds with one another in important respects. It is sometimes
argued that MacIntyre is too pessimistic about the chances of reaching
agreement on moral matters in contemporary culture. In fact, the argument
is sometimes made (in the spirit of Fukuyama 1992) that many of the ten-
sions in human culture have been worked out (or soon will be) through the
widespread agreement on the truisms of liberal political culture and through
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

the mechanisms of a regulated and benign market. MacIntyre‪s picture of
contemporary culture as constituted by a fragmented moral vocabulary,
a vanishingly thin emotivist self, and interminable and incommensurable
moral debates is seen on this view as simply Celtic pessimism. But others
who disagree with MacIntyre‪s description of the state of moral discourse
in contemporary culture take quite a different tack. Instead of criticizing
his view for being too pessimistic, they claim that in an important respect
it is too optimistic. They argue that MacIntyre goes wrong in suggesting
that interminable moral disputes are a distinctive feature of late modernity,
because, these critics claim, such disputes are found in many periods in the
development of human culture when the particular features of breakdown
and fragmentation MacIntyre Ô¬Ānds in modernity do not hold. The Ô¬Ārst ver-
sion of this criticism then holds that moral disagreement and fragmentation
are not as widespread as MacIntyre claims; the second version admits that it
may be as widespread in contemporary culture, but claims that interminable
moral disputes have always been with us. MacIntyre can take some comfort
at least that while those views are not strictly incompatible it is unlikely that
both versions of this criticism will hit home.
It must be admitted that MacIntyre‪s claims about the character of con-
temporary culture and the state of contemporary moral discourse, especially
as they are laid out with such sweep and with such a distinctive rhetorical
note in the opening chapters of After Virtue, surely outrun the evidence that
he presents for these claims. Indeed, it is difÔ¬Ācult to imagine what kind of
evidence would be sufÔ¬Ācient for claims of such breadth. MacIntyre draws
on a broad range of social theorists, artists, and philosophers in developing
this description. Durkheim, Henry James, Goffman, Weber, William Gass,
Sartre, and Kierkegaard, among others, put in appearances as witnesses for
MacIntyre‚Ä™s view of ‚Äúemotivist culture.‚ÄĚ The ambitions of his description
here, of course, go far beyond those of most contemporary English-speaking
philosophers. He trespasses in various ways on territory that in the neatly
compartmentalized contemporary academy has been given over to disci-
plines other than philosophy. What can be said in defense of MacIntyre‪s
view here, however, is considerable. First, the description he gives rings
true at least in broad outline to many readers. Other philosophers such
as Bernard Williams (1985) and Charles Taylor (1989), who disagree with
many other features of MacIntyre‪s view, are in broad agreement with his
claims here. Second, by placing these views on the table and depicting them
in such stark terms, MacIntyre has inspired a continuing interest on the part
of social theorists (for example, Bellah 1985) in conÔ¬Ārming or disconÔ¬Ārming

But more importantly, MacIntyre has convinced many moral philoso-
phers that, whatever the Ô¬Ānal scholarly verdict on his particular description
of contemporary social structure and its ills may be, the attempt to examine
carefully the social structure within which a moral philosophy will be
embodied is an important part of the overall task of normative theory.
However inadequate MacIntyre‪s particular description of contemporary
culture may seem to some readers (and recall that to many of us it does not
seem so inadequate), it is surely important that he at least attempts to come
to terms with the character of contemporary social life. MacIntyre is right
that ‚Äúevery moral philosophy presupposes a sociology,‚ÄĚ but if he is right
about that, then it is a condition of adequacy for any moral philosophy
that it attend to the sociology it presupposes ‚Ä“ and also to the sociology
presupposed by views it is opposing. This is a lesson that MacIntyre
has taught all of us. It has the unfortunate consequence, of course, that
philosophers must get their hands dirty in sometimes messy issues of social
description,17 but perhaps that is part of the price of developing normative
theories of genuine relevance to the lives and decisions of those who hold
them. MacIntyre‪s willingness to engage issues about the detailed social
embodiment of normative theories contrasts sharply with the practice of the
main proponents of neo-Kantian and consequentialist normative theories.
They are content for the most part to abstract from any real engagement
with detailed descriptions of contemporary social life in developing their
theories. Trolley cases could as well be chariot cases if discussed by Socrates
or rickshaw cases if discussed by nineteenth-century Confucians.18 Models
of idealized economic rationality or of idealized contexts of discussions in
which discussants abstract from their ‚Äúreal‚ÄĚ social positions may be useful
in dealing with certain issues in moral philosophy, but only if care is taken
to relate them by appropriate bridge principles to real conditions of the
social life of those whose actions are to be guided by the normative theories
under discussion. Surely one of the most important reasons for the revival
of virtue theory in recent ethics is the perception (whether justiÔ¬Āed in all
cases or not) that concentration on the virtues will force moral philoso-
phers to confront the conditions of moral choice less abstractly than is
frequently done.
Those critics of MacIntyre who challenge his chillingly pessimistic view
of the culture of late modernity may be right then that he draws conclusions
not fully warranted by the evidence he brings forward. But surely he is to be
commended for attempting to discharge his responsibility, as he sees it, to
discuss the disputes among contemporary normative theories in a socially
realistic manner. Many of MacIntyre‪s philosophical opponents who are less
concerned with engaging the culture purchase a certain theoretical tidiness
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

and clarity for their views, but one suspects at the cost of irrelevance to the
lives of those whose choices they hoped to inÔ¬‚uence.
The second broad response to MacIntyre‪s project in normative ethics
calls into question his claim to be producing a normative ethical theory at all.
We are reminded by these critics that he rejects the Enlightenment Project
and its attempt to construct normative theories around rational principles
accessible to all fully rational creatures. He also rejects (at least in After
Virtue) any help he might get from a classical teleological metaphysical
view in anchoring a justiÔ¬Ācatory normative theory. Moreover, he confesses
to being a member of a culture whose moral concepts and ideas are largely
fragments of dying or dead moral conceptions and that is emotivist in its use
of moral language. Finally, as we saw at the end of the last section, when he
does get around to producing an account of how one ethical theory might
prove itself rationally superior to another, the account presupposes a view of
tradition-constituted inquiry that is both historically and socially situated
and that will almost certainly make use of concepts and principles that
are incommensurable with those of competing traditions. In spite of this,
MacIntyre continues to claim to be a moral realist whose central theoretical
ambition in ethics is to achieve the truth (not just warranted assertibility)
about ethics and to provide rational support for the claim that what is
achieved is the truth (see MacIntyre 1994b and 1999b).
Given this puzzling combination of views it has seemed to some critics
that MacIntyre would be better classiÔ¬Āed with anti-theorists like Bernard
Williams. Others have thought that in spite of his protests to the contrary
MacIntyre must Ô¬Ānally be committed to some relativistic or perspectivist
view in normative ethics. MacIntyre‪s objections to relativism and perspec-
tivism are so strong, and have been so often repeated, however, that one can
hardly suspect him of seriously holding these views, even unintentionally.
The relation of his views to the sophisticated views of anti-theorists like
Williams is, however, more complicated.
While MacIntyre does not regard himself as an anti-theorist, he accepts
a great deal of the anti-theorist project. He wants in a way to accept their
premises and reject their conclusion.19 He accepts “the thesis that moral
practice can only be understood from within and their corresponding denial
that viable moral theory can Ô¬Ānd a basis for its enquiries or its conclusions
independent of and external to moral practice‚ÄĚ (MacIntyre 1994d).20 What
he rejects is “the thesis that therefore all moral theory is an illegitimate
enterprise, one condemned to distortion and illusion‚ÄĚ (MacIntyre 1994d).
MacIntyre thinks he can hold these two views together by developing an
ethical theory that is dependent on the local and the particular in its starting
point, but worthy of being called a theory in its aspiration. He wants ethical

theory to grow out of the ethical activity of communities but to aspire to
make universal claims that reject any putative provenance from an imper-
sonal or value-neutral perspective. Theory will be rooted in particular prac-
tices and the insights available only from within them, but will make claims
that can conÔ¬‚ict (and be seen to conÔ¬‚ict) with those of alien communities.
How does he Ô¬‚esh out this view?
MacIntyre argues that ethical theory can emerge in three stages from the
ethical life of a well-ordered community. At the Ô¬Ārst stage, members of the
community will need to evaluate their actions and those of others, and such
evaluation may in particular cases call for a kind of justiÔ¬Ācation. The need
for justiÔ¬Ācation will typically not arise from a general theoretical interest but
rather from a particular question about a problem in action. At the second
stage, MacIntyre claims that such attempts to settle questions of justiÔ¬Ācation
will presuppose shared standards in the community. Indeed, the intelligi-
bility of the questions arising at the Ô¬Ārst stage presupposes such standards,
and these standards will be formulated at the second stage. But there might
be circumstances in which the nature of disagreement within a community
is so deep that justiÔ¬Ācations for these standards themselves would be called
into question. At this third stage, ethical arguments would be developed to
defend alternative possible standards. In all such inquiries and at whatever
degree of distance from particular problems, however, reÔ¬‚ection begins
with speciÔ¬Āc problems in the community, and MacIntyre claims that there
will be particular goods and virtues connected to the project of inquiry itself.
Thus, on his view, ethical theory will grow out of the normal ethical activity
of communities of self-aware and reÔ¬‚ective creatures. It will be integrated
into these communities and impossible without the rootedness that comes
with this kind of reÔ¬‚ection. ‚ÄúThe context within which theoretical moral
enquiry alone has point and purpose is then that provided by the activities
of some particular community‚ÄĚ (MacIntyre 1994d).
What price does one pay in attempting to do ethical theory outside the
context of a particular community? MacIntyre argues that, among other
difÔ¬Āculties, one can have no sense of the terminus of moral debate. What
brings moral reÔ¬‚ection in a community on a particular matter to a close
is the resolution of the particular dispute that gave rise to it. If theoretical
inquiry is not rooted in the particularities of concrete disputes, then dis-
agreement may be interminable. MacIntyre thinks that the anti-theorists
are particularly good at recognizing the necessity for this kind of rootedness:

In situations in which not enough is shared, theoretical argument and en-
quiry necessarily become practically barren. The kind of theorizing which is
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

symptomatic of and generated by this condition of break-down are familiar:
the setting by theorists to themselves of impossible Quixotic tasks, such as
that of how to provide grounds for rationally well-grounded moral agree-
ment and trust among individuals in Prisoner‪s Dilemma type situations;
the genesis of interminable disagreements about the terminus of justiÔ¬Āca-
tory arguments; and most of all a failure to remember that especially in
times of crisis theorists, like everyone else, are sustained by the continuing
inarticulate, atheoretical goodness of those whose unexamined lives are well
worth living. About this once again the reminders of antitheorists are often
salutary. (MacIntyre 1994d)

At this point in his argument, however, MacIntyre‪s critics may say that
he has given in to the anti-theorists altogether. What is left of the aspiration
of theory for universal and objectively grounded norms on such a partic-
ularistic view? MacIntyre is clear that there need be no conÔ¬‚ict between
regarding moral norms as ultimately rooted in the particularity of commu-
nity life and regarding them as aspiring to universality and genuine truth.
The fact that communities typically ‚Ä“ and perhaps necessarily ‚Ä“ seek to
combat the opposing ethical claims of distant communities suggests that
they see no inconsistency. MacIntyre recognizes that, given his picture of
the genesis of ethical theory from community life, these conÔ¬‚icts are go-
ing to be rationally problematic. In Whose Justice?, as we have noted, he
gives an elaborate account of how rational debate among competing com-
munities about the moral rules that govern them can be carried on without
any appeal to perspectives or points of view abstracted from the concrete
life of the competing communities. He also gives a good deal of practical
advice about how we should conduct the details of such arguments between
culturally distant communities. He thinks it is particularly important that
we strive to avoid the use of power and manipulation in settling such dis-
putes, availing ourselves of rational inquiry alone. He also suggests that we
strive to separate disputes that are, at least for the present, intractable from
those that give some promise of being resolvable ‚Ä“ and that we should focus
our discussions and arguments on the latter. And he suggests that we should
be particularly attentive to our own failures in giving a convincing defense
of our norms to others and seek rational means to make our arguments
more persuasive to our interlocutors.
While giving such advice, however, and while developing his elaborate
account of tradition-based inquiry, MacIntyre stops short of promising an
algorithmic device that will guarantee, even ideally, a resolution of all prac-
tical conÔ¬‚icts across communities. But if this is what is required of moral

reÔ¬‚ection in order for it to count as genuinely theoretical, then surely hardly
anyone is a theorist. MacIntyre doesn‪t guarantee the resolution of all con-
Ô¬‚icts, but then in this respect he is no worse off than other contemporary
moral theorists.21 Nobody is handing out guarantees.22
In the end it seems to me that debates about whether MacIntyre is do-
ing normative theory or rejecting it are not very important. What is clear
is that MacIntyre claims that a certain view of ethics is true, and he brings
arguments in support of that view‪s truth. In his most recent book, Depen-
dent Rational Animals, he has developed a set of concrete normative views
in much more detail than in any of his previous ethical writings. His de-
fense, in that book, of the importance of human weakness and vulnerability
and the claims these features of human life make on us is developed with
a clarity of conception and passion that will convince any reader of the
book that MacIntyre thinks these views are true. For those who Ô¬Ānd his
views on ethics expressed there or elsewhere implausible, their only resort
is to bring arguments against those views, and then the dialogue can begin.
MacIntyre‪s past philosophical behavior suggests that he will not hesitate to
become involved in that dialogue. Indeed, his own willingness throughout
his career to reformulate his views in order to make them more compelling
as well as his relentless dialectical engagement with those who disagree with
him are perhaps the most signiÔ¬Ācant indications of his commitment to the
possibility of genuine truth in ethics. There are large questions, of course,
about whether he can in the end vindicate his account of tradition-based
rationality, and those questions must be left aside here. There should be
no doubt, however, about his commitment to the classical project of ethical
theory. He makes it clear that one can criticize Enlightenment concep-
tions of ethical theory without abandoning the project of ethical theory


There seems little doubt that MacIntyre‪s contributions to contemporary
moral philosophy will continue to be both inÔ¬‚uential and deeply contro-
versial. His views are inÔ¬‚uential, I suspect, because they embody a critique
of contemporary culture that is much more concrete than that provided
by the more abstract and formal ethical theories advanced by such Kantian
rationalists as Rawls and such consequentialists as ParÔ¬Āt. It is also a critique
that rings true to many of those who feel uneasy about central features of life
in late modernity ‚Ä“ but who want to resist the excesses of postmodernism.
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

It is more difÔ¬Ācult, I think, to understand why his views continue to be so
controversial. At a time when most academic moral philosophers combine
a deeply secular view of the world with a commitment to some form of
liberal political theory, MacIntyre‪s orthodox Catholicism and his sharp at-
tacks on liberalism may seem explanation enough. I suspect, however, that
the reasons run deeper than this and have as much to do with his style
of philosophy as with the content of his philosophical beliefs. As we have
seen, he has raised far-reaching objections to the received methodologies
of both metaethics and normative ethics, and has modeled in his work an
alternative to these methodologies. In this respect, he is a genuine radical
and stands outside the mainstream of contemporary moral philosophy. The
attention paid recently by moral philosophers to the history of their subject
suggests, however, that many of MacIntyre‪s ideas may now be entering
the mainstream. What the consequences of this may be for the practice of
academic moral philosophy and its role in the culture remains to be seen.


1. Most notable is J. B. Schneewind, whose The Invention of Autonomy (1998) bril-
liantly (if not always successfully) seeks to overturn MacIntyre‪s account of the
history of modern moral philosophy from Suarez to Kant.
2. Since other papers in this volume are focusing on MacIntyre‚Ä™s speciÔ¬Āc engage-
ments with the history of ethics, I will, to the extent possible, focus on MacIntyre‪s
engagement with contemporary ethical theory. Given the nature of his view,
however, it will not always be possible to keep these two contexts of thought
3. This has been suggested most notoriously by A. J. Ayer in the famous Ô¬Āfth
chapter of Language, Truth and Logic (1936).
4. Stevenson‪s most important work both expositing and defending noncognitivism
is Ethics and Language (1944), while Ayer sends his cannon shot across the bow
of cognitivist theories Ô¬Ārst in Language, Truth and Logic (1936).
5. This thesis has not been published. I would like to thank Professor MacIntyre
for making a copy available for me to examine.
6. It is particularly penetrating in criticizing intuitionism, of which MacIntyre says,
‚Äúbut all intuitionist writers suffer from one difÔ¬Āculty: they are, on their own view,
telling us only about what we all know already. That they sometimes disagree
about what it is that we all know already only makes them less boring at the cost
of making them even less convincing‚ÄĚ (Short History, p. 254).
7. It is important not to confuse MacIntyre‪s indictment with that of the radical.
He says of the difference:
For the modern radical is as conÔ¬Ādent in the moral expression of his stances
and consequently in the assertive uses of the rhetoric of morality as any

conservative has ever been. Whatever else he denounces in our culture he
is certain that it still possesses the moral resources which he requires in
order to denounce it. Everything else may be, in his eyes, in disorder; but
the language of morality is in order, just as it is. (After Virtue, 4)
8. It is signiÔ¬Ācant, I think, that MacIntyre begins this book with a focus on moral
disagreement and, in this, follows closely the structure of the most signiÔ¬Ācant
work in emotivism, Charles Stevenson‪s Ethics and Language. After this begin-
ning, of course, there is signiÔ¬Ācant divergence in their views.
9. This is yet a further development of MacIntyre‪s metaethical views explored in
the previous section.
10. The notion of a ‚Äúcharacter‚ÄĚ is one of the most difÔ¬Ācult in MacIntyre‚Ä™s repertoire
of tools of social description. He says of it:
A character is an object of regard by the members of the culture generally
or by some signiÔ¬Ācant segment of it. It furnishes them with a cultural
and moral ideal. Hence the demand is that in this type of case role and
personality be fused. Social type and psychological type are required to
coincide. The character morally legitimates a mode of social existence.
(After Virtue, p. 29)
11. A much fuller account of MacIntyre‪s notion of a tradition is given in Chapter 2
of this volume.
12. Even to pose this question, of course, is to take sides in the debate, since the
clash between Aristotle and Nietzsche is, in part, a clash about whether rational
vindication is possible or even coherent.
13. The fact that some philosophers still attempt to do this simply testiÔ¬Āes to how
irresponsible philosophers can be.
14. Indeed, some of us who teach MacIntyre have been chastised by him for at-
tempting to make his views more palatable than, according to him, they should
be. In fact, he clearly believes that his views can only be made palatable to con-
temporary philosophers at the cost of making them boring. If they are to be
interesting, they must be, he thinks, radical and in some sense unattractive.
15. Indeed, his treatment of Kierkegaard alone is the subject of the recent book
of essays Kierkegaard After MacIntyre (Davenport and Rudd 2001). There also
has been much critical discussion of his treatment of Aristotle, Aquinas, Hume,
Kant, and Nietzsche, as well as of his interpretation of the Enlightenment.
16. I will also not comment at length on the many ad hominem remarks that he
seems to attract. Moral philosophers as able as Thomas Nagel could surely do
better than to snipe at MacIntyre‪s religious views, as Nagel does when he says
in a review of Whose Justice? that “my sense is that MacIntyre‪s religion is driving
his philosophy. He wants to produce an argument that does not rely on religious
premises to show that only something like a religious morality is possible. This
cannot be done. But to him, the conclusion of the argument is evident on other
grounds‚ÄĚ (Nagel 1995b, p. 209). I am not sure what Nagel means by ‚Äúsomething
like a religious morality‚ÄĚ and I suspect he doesn‚Ä™t either. My sense is that Nagel‚Ä™s
secularism and dislike of religion is driving his philosophy here.
17. But it is not always unpleasant. Many moral philosophers were Ô¬Ārst attracted
to MacIntyre‪s view of moral philosophy, I suspect, because it allowed them
MacIntyre and Contemporary Moral Philosophy

to spend their summers reading Trollope‪s novels while convincing themselves
and their paymasters that they were just doing their job researching the mid-
Victorian ‚Ęought‚Ä™.
18. A prominent moral philosopher recently mentioned that she forbade the men-
tion of trolley cases in her classes ‚Ä“ surely a policy MacIntyre would look upon
19. I am not, of course, suggesting that MacIntyre is rejecting the pressure of a
valid argument, but rather that he regards the conclusions of the anti-theorists‚Ä™
arguments as not validly following from their premises.
20. In what follows, I am guided by MacIntyre‪s unpublished paper, “Moral The-
ory Put to the Question,‚ÄĚ presented at an American Philosophical Association
symposium on anti-theory in ethics at which he appeared with Tim Scanlon
and Allan Gibbard.
21. Some moral philosophers do come close to giving a guarantee. Derek ParÔ¬Āt
seems to think that when the last residue of religious belief is wrung out of
modern men and women, his austere consequentialism will carry all before it.
As he says on the last page of Reasons and Persons:
Belief in God, or in many gods, prevented the free development of moral
reasoning. Disbelief in God, openly admitted by a majority, is a recent
event, not yet completed. Because this event is so recent, Non-Religious
Ethics is at a very early stage. We cannot predict whether, as in Mathe-
matics, we will all reach agreement. Since we cannot know how Ethics will
develop, it is not irrational to have high hopes. (ParÔ¬Āt 1984, p. 454).
Thomas Nagel seems to think that we have reason to hope that our primitive
moral consciousness may someday Ô¬Ānd its Newton and with it a theoretical
structure that will heal all wounds. His optimism is well expressed in a passage
toward the end of The View From Nowhere:
In ethics, even without the beneÔ¬Āt of many clear examples, we should be
open to the possibility of progress as we are in other areas, with a con-
sequent effect of reduced conÔ¬Ādence in the Ô¬Ānality of our current under-
standing. It is evident that we are at a primitive stage of moral development.
Even the most civilized human beings have only a haphazard understand-
ing of how to live, how to treat others, how to organize their societies. The
idea that the basic principles of morality are known, and that the problems
all come in their interpretation and application, is one of the most fantas-
tic conceits to which our conceited species has been drawn. (Nagel 1986,
p. 186)
22. MacIntyre‪s optimism about the possibility of moral agreement across com-
munities may be one point at which his religious views do inÔ¬‚uence his moral
philosophy. Mindful of the Christian injunction to avoid despair and the cen-
trality of the virtue of hope in the Christian life, he surely has resources for
expecting things to work out that are denied more secular thinkers. In this
respect, it is easier for Christians to ‚Äúwork without a net.‚ÄĚ
6 MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

In this chapter I will take up questions concerning MacIntyre‪s polit-
ical thought as that thought has developed from After Virtue onward.
MacIntyre‪s political thought is best understood in terms of its opposi-
tion to, and as an attempt to describe an alternative to, the political form
that dominates modern life: the state. On MacIntyre‪s view, the modern
state is trapped in a dilemma: it is unable to justify itself without bearing
a substantive conception of the good, but the state is entirely unÔ¬Āt to bear
a substantive conception of the good. State politics is indefensible, inco-
herent in theory and practice (section 1). A set of political institutions, to
be rationally justiÔ¬Āable, will have to be able to sustain politics conceived as
a practice and will have to be carried out locally within the enabling con-
straints set by the natural law (section 2). But there are serious questions to
be raised concerning both MacIntyre‪s criticism of state politics and his en-
dorsement of a politics of local community: it is unclear whether the state
is as deeply Ô¬‚awed an institution as MacIntyre suggests and it is unclear
whether the politics of local community, as MacIntyre describes it, is not
itself deeply incoherent (section 3).


Just as MacIntyre takes the central task of moral philosophy to be that
of accounting for the rational authority of morals (After Virtue, p. 52) ‚Ä“
the failure of the Enlightenment project is just the failure to exhibit that
authority ‚Ä“ MacIntyre takes the central task of political philosophy to be that
of accounting for the authority of political institutions. Political philosophy
is centrally concerned with political justiÔ¬Ācations, which are

those arguments advanced to show why we, as members of some particular
political society, should or should not accept as having legitimate authority
over us the commands uttered by someone claiming executive authority over

MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

or in that society or the laws uttered by someone or some body claiming
legislative authority over or in that society (MacIntyre 1997b, p. 241).

Political institutions are law-giving and law-enforcing, and claim to have
authority to give and enforce those laws. But it is a remarkable fact about
contemporary political philosophy that a number of writers have, while
agreeing that the central issue in political philosophy is that of political
authority, denied that any satisfactory account of such authority can be
provided (see, especially, Simmons 1979 and Raz 1979), and that a num-
ber of writers have, contrary to centuries of traditional political philosophy,
turned their attention away from the question of political authority (whether
and why political institutions have the power to give binding commands)
and toward the question of political legitimacy (whether and why political
institutions have the right to coerce citizens within their domains) (see, es-
pecially, Waldron 1987 and Rawls 1993, pp. 136‚Ä“137). In MacIntyre‚Ä™s view,
the failure of contemporary philosophy to provide successful solutions to
the problem of political authority, and the turning of philosophical atten-
tion from political authority to legitimate use of coercion, is best explained
in light of the fact that political philosophers have framed their inquiries
in terms of the modern state. Again, just as MacIntyre takes the problems
of moral philosophy to be, within the constraints set by the Enlightenment
project, insoluble (After Virtue, pp. 51‚Ä“61), he takes the problems of po-
litical authority to be, within the constraints set by the institution of the
modern state, insoluble.
Why is the political justiÔ¬Ācation of the state doomed to failure? Let
us begin with a brief characterization of what exactly MacIntyre means by
‚Ęthe state.‚Ä™ He does not mean ‚Äúwhatever political organization happens to
be dominant in a particular society.‚ÄĚ He means a particular kind of political
organization. States exhibit territorial governance. Their organization is
centralized and hierarchical, and their rule over their citizens is direct and
pervasive. They expect the allegiance of their citizens; indeed, they expect
that allegiance to “have precedence over that formerly owed to family, clan,
commune, lord, bishop, pope, or emperor‚ÄĚ (Morris 1998, p. 45; I draw on
Morris‪s excellent book for the salient characteristics of modern states). As
is clear, the state is the form of political organization that dominates mod-
ern life: the whole political world exists as a state system. Every political
philosopher, and every reader of political philosophy, carries out his or her
inquiries while living under a state. Given that the state is a ubiquitous fea-
ture of modern political life, it is not hard to see why political philosophers
would frame their inquiries in terms of it. But, as MacIntyre notes, the

unwillingness to consider questions of political forms alternative to those
that are prevailing ‚Äúis always ideological in its effect‚ÄĚ (MacIntyre 1996a,
p. 62): it is to treat the present dominant forms of political life as inevitable;
and to think of any form of political life as inevitable is to mask its defects,
defects that can be brought out by considering what alternatives to the state
could be, or might have been, realized.
MacIntyre‪s most thoroughly developed line of criticism of the modern
state is against what we may call the ‚Äúneutralist‚ÄĚ state. A state is neutralist if
it decides how to act in terms of, and bases its claims for citizens‚Ä™ allegiance
upon, only those extremely thin conceptions of the good that are shared by
all minimally rational members of that political society. MacIntyre holds
that the political justiÔ¬Ācations of neutralist states inevitably fail, and thus
such states receive the allegiance of their citizens only through errors on
the part of those citizens. Neutralist states can expect the support of their
citizens only if those citizens remain deceived.
The neutralist state, which appeals to only a thin conception of the
human good, can justify allegiance to itself only by an appeal to the public
interest ‚Ä“ to the provision of a secure order in which individuals may pursue
their own ends (MacIntyre 1997b, p. 241). In order to provide a successful
account of the state‪s authority, the state must appeal only to those goods
that are useful to all citizens in pursuit of their own ends, ends justiÔ¬Āed
only in terms of each individuals‚Ä™ idiosyncratic conception of the good.
A citizen should have allegiance to the state because it is the state that
provides goods that are essential or extremely important with respect to the
pursuit of that citizen‪s own conception of the good. But MacIntyre thinks
that any account of political allegiance that appeals only to such goods is
bound to fail. For one has sufÔ¬Ācient reason to promote the public interest
through one‪s allegiance to the state and obedience to its dictates only if
this allegiance and obedience help one to promote one‪s individual good
more successfully than would one‪s lack of allegiance and disobedience. This
generates two problems for public-interest accounts of the state‪s authority
(MacIntyre 1984e, pp. 225‚Ä“226; see also Whose Justice?, p. 347; MacIntyre
1997b, p. 242).
The Ô¬Ārst problem is that of freeriders. One‚Ä™s own contribution to the
public interest by obedience to the state is, in most cases, rather minimal;
the vast majority of the work done in promoting the public interest is,
obviously, done by others. Abstracting for a moment from the risks to one‪s
individual good that are due to state punishment as a result of disobedience,
it will be quite often true that one will do better from the point of view of
one‪s individual good by withholding one‪s contribution to the enterprise
MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

of promoting the public interest rather than by contributing. And even if
state punishment is Ô¬Āgured in, the difÔ¬Āculty is not resolved, for the state
is constructed to deal only with minor or sporadic major violations of its
dictates; it is built for compliance, not noncompliance.
The second problem is that of dangerous jobs. No political society can
survive without the existence of persons willing to do dangerous jobs ‚Ä“ jobs
whose performance is essential to the well-being of that political society, but
which pose grave risks to those parties that carry them out. Police, soldiers,
Ô¬ĀreÔ¬Āghters ‚Ä“ even, in some areas, public high school teachers ‚Ä“ perform
jobs that are difÔ¬Ācult to justify in terms of their contribution simply to one‚Ä™s
individual good. So if the state‪s appeal for allegiance is simply what the
state can do with respect to each citizen‪s individual good, it seems as if
the state has not explained why there should be anyone willing to do the
dangerous jobs essential to a state‪s success.
The upshot of these arguments is that if we take the public-interest ac-
count to be the story of why citizens should have allegiance to the state, then
the state can survive only by having citizens that are deceived (MacIntyre
1997b, p. 242). Given the transparent inability of the public-interest ar-
gument to provide an adequate account of allegiance to the state, the
explanation of the state‪s persistence will be a story of citizens‪ errors.
That the state is dependent on the existence of a largely confused citi-
zenry provides at least part of the explanation for the state‪s peculiar hybrid

The modern nation-state . . . present[s] itself on the one hand as a bu-
reaucratic supplier of goods and services, which is always about, but never
actually does, give its clients value for money, and on the other as a reposi-
tory for sacred values, which from time to time invites one to lay down one‪s
life on its behalf. . . . It is like being asked to die for the telephone company.
(MacIntyre 1994f, p. 303)

Now, I take it that most defenders of the neutralist state would agree
with the essentials, if not with the details, of MacIntyre‪s criticism of any
argument for allegiance that takes as its premise merely the prospect of those
beneÔ¬Āts with respect to one‚Ä™s own good that can be realized instrumentally
through the state. But defenders of the neutralist state are likely here to
appeal to principles of justice in accounting for allegiance to the state,
principles whose binding force is independent of any particular conception
of the good and thus can be invoked against parties with various visions of
the good life to explain why they should be reluctant to freeride and why
they should do their share with respect to the performance of dangerous

jobs within their states (see, for example, Hart 1955; Rawls 1964; Klosko
It may seem surprising that MacIntyre gives the criticism of the public-
interest account pride of place in his attack on the neutralist state, since
most philosophers defending the neutralist state would appeal to justice
rather than private beneÔ¬Āt alone in making their case (see, for example,
Rawls 1971, pp. 350‚Ä“355; Waldron 1993), and since the self-image of the
state ‚Ä“ if we take the writings in judicial opinions to be representative of
that self-image ‚Ä“ is often that of an institution that requires allegiance out
of the demands of justice.1 I take it that the reason that MacIntyre gives
the public-interest argument pride of place, given his own views on the
priority of the good to the right (MacIntyre 1990d, p. 345), is that the
public-interest argument, weak as it is, is at least an argument that makes
the necessary appeal to the good. The public-interest argument fails by
relying on a conception of the good too thin to do the job that the state
needs it to do. But it is at least the right sort of an argument ‚Ä“ an argument
that begins from the goods made possible by political institutions.
Why are appeals to justice as accounts of political allegiance the wrong
sorts of arguments, on MacIntyre‪s view? The most fundamental reason is
grounded in the After Virtue argument against the Enlightenment project.
There MacIntyre argues that the task of providing an account of moral rules
justiÔ¬Āable to rational beings in the absence of an account of the appropriate
telos of human life is doomed to fail. I will not rehearse here that argument,
which is discussed in Chapter 4, except to note that it applies as well to
argument about rules that will structure not only the lives of particular
people but the lives of whole communities: without some conception of
the good of that community, of the form of life that is the proper end
for common life, rules of justice that are rationally justiÔ¬Āable are not to
be had.
The difÔ¬Āculty is not that, in the neutralist state, we can come up with no
plausible candidate principles of justice. The difÔ¬Āculty is that we can come
up with all too many, the results of different justiÔ¬Ācatory procedures, with-
out any way of rationally deciding among them (MacIntyre 1990d, p. 348).
And since these principles of justice and these procedures of deciding on
principles of justice make claims to ultimacy, we seem to be stuck without
any way of coming to decide rationally on such principles. (See, for an il-
lustration of this point, MacIntyre‪s discussion of the Rawls/Nozick debate
in After Virtue, pp. 244‚Ä“255.) As MacIntyre notes, incommensurability be-
tween rival justiÔ¬Ācatory schemes need not mean that one of the competitors
cannot emerge victorious. But we have not seen anything like progress in
MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

the debate among the various competitors ‚Ä“ Kantianisms, utilitarianisms,
intuitionisms, contractarianisms (Whose Justice?, p. 344).
Now, one might respond: perhaps all of this is too hasty. Perhaps
MacIntyre is wrong to think that the Enlightenment project is fatally Ô¬‚awed:
we have to allow, as MacIntyre does allow, that radical conceptual innova-
tion is always possible, so that what is not foreseeable to us here and now
might come as the result of radical invention (Whose Justice?, p. 346; After
Virtue, pp. 93‚Ä“95). And so even if we were to concede that it is not clear
how it is even possible for rules of justice to be defended without an appeal
to a substantive theory of the good, and that rival accounts of such rules
are at present simply at odds with each other with no direction of progress
apparent, the possibility that progress will emerge is a live one. But the
allowance of the bare possibility that the rational agreement on principles
of justice will emerge that provide us with justiÔ¬Ācation for allegiance to
the neutralist state surely does nothing to provide those living under such
states, here and now, with a political justiÔ¬Ācation of them (Whose Justice?,
p. 346).
MacIntyre has two other relevant arguments against the appeal to neu-
tralist justice to deal with the problem of political justiÔ¬Ācation. The Ô¬Ārst is
that further debates about appropriate principles of justice are not, within
the constraints set by the neutralist state, going to be of institutional im-
portance. The work of political philosophers in articulating conceptions of
justice and arguing through them has negligible impact on the process of
political decision making. We have in the modern state, MacIntyre argues,
a collection of small academic circles in which inquiry takes place, and a
political world in which inquiry is excluded. (It is hard to see how inquiry
could play any key role in politics, given the subservience to corporations
that the modern state exhibits: because the modern state is so dependent
on such corporations for the revenues to fund its activities, there is little
possibility of political inquiry that could effectively limit such corporations;
see MacIntyre 1999d, pp. 139‚Ä“140.) There are at least two important impli-
cations of this divide between rational inquiry and political processes in the
state. The Ô¬Ārst is that even some success in rational inquiry into principles
of justice would be of little use to someone asking about allegiance to the
state, for there is little reason to think that rationally justiÔ¬Āed principles of
justice would, qua rationally justiÔ¬Āed, ever become realized in practice. The
second is that the state, through this very division, makes itself less wor-
thy of allegiance. For it lacks the institutional settings for common inquiry
that would enable the vast majority of those living under it to recognize its
shortcomings. There is thus prima facie reason for suspicion of the state,

that is, that it lacks the resources to bring its deÔ¬Āciencies to light so that
they can be, so far as possible, corrected (MacIntyre 1997b, p. 239).
There is a second worry about the possibility of solving the problem of
political allegiance to the modern state by an appeal to neutralist principles
of justice, one to which MacIntyre calls attention in his Lindley Lecture
on the virtue of patriotism. In that lecture MacIntyre considers two rival
views on patriotism ‚Ä“ that of the antipatriotic liberal, and that of the an-
tiliberal patriot. The lecture‚Ä™s question, ‚ÄúIs Patriotism a Virtue?,‚ÄĚ is never
answered; rather, he notes deep difÔ¬Āculties for both positions. We will con-
sider MacIntyre‪s criticism of the patriot‪s response in the next section. But
here we should note the relevance of his criticism of the liberal antipatriot‪s
position. He understands the liberal to appeal to principles of morality that
are justiÔ¬Āable from an impartial point of view, and those liberals that want to
defend the neutralist state characteristically include as part of the impartial
point of view the notion that the rules of justice are justiÔ¬Āed without appeal
to one‪s own particular conception of the good (see Rawls 1971, p. 137;
Dworkin 1978). Now, MacIntyre supposes that adherence to this sort of
position will raise trouble for an argument for allegiance to some particular
state. The rules of justice as articulated in this impartial framework are sup-
posed to apply to all and to concern the treatment of all. But it is hard to see
how we can pull out of justice thus understood a requirement of allegiance
to some particular state. This difÔ¬Āculty has been emphasized by other theo-
rists in the liberal tradition: John Simmons has referred to the “particularity
requirement‚ÄĚ that all accounts of political obligation must satisfy, and has
argued persuasively that appeals to liberal conceptions of justice do not en-
able the theorist of political authority to satisfy this desideratum (Simmons
1979, pp. 30‚Ä“35; see also Green 1990, pp. 232‚Ä“234; for MacIntyre‚Ä™s clear
endorsement of the particularity requirement, see MacIntyre 1983e).
But justice can be realized only in particular settings, under particular
institutions. So the appeal to a neutralist conception of justice to justify
allegiance to the state brings with it the same danger that we noted above
with respect to a public-interest justiÔ¬Ācation of the state. The public-interest
argument fails, and so if the citizens see clearly the failure of that argument,
the state‪s capacity to promote the public interest will be undercut. The
argument from liberal justice must fail, and so if citizens see clearly the
failure of that argument, the state‪s capacity to realize a conception of justice
is undercut.
The neutralist state must appeal either to a conception of the good
that is thin enough to be neutral among citizens with different substantive
conceptions of the good or to a conception of justice that is defensible apart
MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

from an appeal to a substantive conception of the good. But in MacIntyre‪s
view, neither of these justiÔ¬Ācations for allegiance to a neutralist state can
succeed. Why is this not, then, an argument for a nonneutralist state, a
state that is the bearer of a thick, substantive conception of the good?
This is, after all, the conception of state politics that goes by the label
‚Ęcommunitarianism‚Ä™ (see Sandel 1980), a doctrine with which MacIntyre is
often associated. But MacIntyre rejects communitarianism, insofar as it is
understood as a recommendation for the politics of the modern state.

Contemporary communitarians, from whom I have strongly disassociated
myself whenever I have had an opportunity to do so, advance their propos-
als as a contribution to the politics of the nation-state. Where liberals have
characteristically insisted that government within a nation-state should re-
main neutral between rival conceptions of the human good, contemporary
communitarians have urged that such government should give expression
to some shared vision of the human good, a vision deÔ¬Āning some type of
community. Where liberals have characteristically urged that it is in the ac-
tivities of subordinate voluntary associations, such as those constituted by
religious groups, that shared visions of the good should be articulated, com-
munitarians have insisted that the nation itself through the institutions of
the nation-state ought to be constituted to some degree as a community. . . .
[F]rom my own point of view communitarians have attacked liberals on one
issue on which liberals have been consistently in the right. (MacIntyre 1994f,
p. 302; see also MacIntyre 1991b)

The modern state as an all-embracing community is rightly resisted by liber-
als, ‚Äúunderstanding how it generates totalitarian and other evils‚ÄĚ (MacIntyre
1994f, p. 303). Why exactly does MacIntyre take the modern state‪s bearing
of a conception of the good to be totalitarian? What is objectionable about
the state taking an ofÔ¬Ācial position on such matters?
I take it that the imposition of such a conception of the good is intolera-
ble, on MacIntyre‪s view, both because the state‪s decisionmaking processes
are isolated from procedures of rational inquiry into the good and because
that decisionmaking proceeds hierarchically. The result of these features
in tandem is that a conception of the good would be imposed from above
without adequate rational inquiry into the defensibility of that conception
of the good and without adequate participation in decisionmaking by those
whose lives will be governed by that conception. This is objectionable from
MacIntyre‪s point of view because of his endorsement of the Aristotelian
view that the human good is realized in large part through practical reason-
ing, and that practical reasoning is not simply a means to achieving one‪s

good but a major constituent of that good. Indeed, MacIntyre goes so far
as to identify oppression with deprivation of the capacities and opportuni-
ties for rational inquiry (MacIntyre 1997b, p. 250). To have a way of life
imposed on one by an elite ‚Ä“ and, what‚Ä™s more, the sort of elite that tends
to end up in decisionmaking capacities within states, elites of status and
wealth ‚Ä“ is to have opportunities to achieve one‚Ä™s good through practical
inquiry frustrated by the exercise of pervasive state power, and thus to be
So MacIntyre agrees with the communitarians against the liberals that
the neutralist state must lack authority. And MacIntyre agrees with the
liberals against the communitarians that a non-neutralist state is, in the
end, intolerable. This does not imply that we should reject the possibility
of political forms capable of calling for our rational allegiance; all that it
implies is ‚Äúthat the modern state is not such a form of government‚ÄĚ (After
Virtue, p. 255). What sort of political organization could admit of successful


Recall that while MacIntyre thinks that the argument from the public inter-
est is grossly inadequate as an account of why citizens would owe allegiance
to the neutralist state, he gives that argument pride of place in his criticism
of the neutralist state because it is at least an argument of the right kind: one
that proceeds from the goods made possible by political life. The notion of
the public interest available within the neutralist state is simply too thin to
make it rational for its members to give the state the allegiance that it calls
for. In providing a sketch of an alternative form of political life and political
organization, MacIntyre begins by considering what the goods of political
life would have to be like in order to justify a set of political institutions.
He then considers what the character of these goods tells us about how
politics would have to be conceived, and what political institutions would
have to be like, in order to succeed where the politics of the modern state
was shown to fail.
Any successful political justiÔ¬Ācation, on MacIntyre‚Ä™s view, will have to
proceed by taking the notion of the common good as its central normative
concept. The notion of the common good as MacIntyre understands it
differs fundamentally from the notion of the public interest as MacIntyre
understands it. The public interest is deÔ¬Āned in such a way as to be logically
posterior to the goods of the members of the public: it is a set of conditions
MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

that support individuals‚Ä™ goods. We would have to be able to provide an
account of the individual‪s good that is independent of the notion of the
public interest in order to make sense of that idea. The normative claim that
the public interest has on each practical reasoner derives entirely from the
instrumental relationship that holds between the realization of the public
interest and the realization of his or her individual good. Even though the
public interest is deÔ¬Āned to be those conditions that are instrumentally
valuable to the realization of a rational individual‪s concept of the good, no
matter what the content of that concept, we can be sure that each individual
will have an interest in the provision of that good. But because adherence to
what the state calls upon an individual to do in pursuit of the public interest
may further that individual‪s good less than the failure to adhere to the state‪s
dictate would, the normative pull of the public interest is not sufÔ¬Ācient
to support the state‪s claim to allegiance. Because the individual‪s good is
deÔ¬Āned independently of the public interest, so that what one must do to
achieve the public interest and what one must do to achieve one‪s individual
good can pull massively apart, public interest political justiÔ¬Ācations are
doomed to failure.
By contrast, the concept of a common good, as MacIntyre understands
it, is one that is not subordinate to a prior notion of an individual‪s good.
Rather, a good that is common to a number of persons is not merely instru-
mental to the furtherance of their individual ends; it is constitutive of and
partially deÔ¬Āning of those individuals‚Ä™ goods. MacIntyre‚Ä™s favorite example
is that of a Ô¬Āshing crew (see, for example, MacIntyre 1994f, pp. 284‚Ä“286;
1997b, p. 240). The good of each of the members of the Ô¬Āshing crew cannot
be characterized independently of the good common to all members of the
crew: that they work together properly at a high level of excellence in catch-
ing Ô¬Āsh. The good of a member of a Ô¬Āshing crew is partially characterized
in terms of whether the good of the whole crew is being realized, and so
what it is for the Ô¬Āshing crew to be realizing a common good cannot itself
be deÔ¬Āned in terms of the goods of the individual members of that crew.
The space in which common goods are possible is, in MacIntyre‪s view,
the space of practices. (For a more complete discussion of practices than
that which appears here, see Chapter 5 of this volume.) A practice is

any coherent and complex socially established cooperative human activ-
ity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in
the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are
appropriate to, and partially deÔ¬Ānitive of, that form of activity, with the
result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions

of the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended. (After Virtue,
p. 187)

That there be goods internal to that form of activity is essential to whether
a form of activity constitutes a practice. Goods that are internal to a form
of activity can be deÔ¬Āned only in terms of that activity: they are not merely
contingently associated with a practice, but can be had only by participating
in that practice. By contrast, goods external to a form of activity can be
deÔ¬Āned independently of that activity, are only contingently associated with
it, and can be had other than by participating in that activity. So while the
development of skills especial to Ô¬Āshing, and the exhibition of those skills
in common action through the excellent catching of Ô¬Āsh, are goods internal
to Ô¬Āshing, the Ô¬Ānancial rewards (not to mention the Ô¬Āsh) that accrue to
members of successful Ô¬Āshing crews are goods external to that practice.
Now, while MacIntyre‚Ä™s deÔ¬Ānition of internal and external goods em-
phasizes the necessary and contingent (respectively) connections to the
practices in which these goods can be realized, he suggests that another
salient contrast concerns the way that internal goods tend to be common
goods and external goods private goods.

It is a characteristic of what I have called external goods that when achieved
they are always some individual‪s property and possession. Moreover char-
acteristically they are such that the more someone has of them, the less
there is for other people. . . . External goods are therefore characteristically
objects of competition in which there must be losers as well as winners.
Internal goods are indeed the outcome of competition to excel, but it is
characteristic of them that their achievement is a good for the whole com-
munity who participate in that practice. (After Virtue, pp. 190‚Ä“191)

We can thus see why MacIntyre would take to be key to providing an
account of the sort of politics that admits of justiÔ¬Ācation that it would include
an appeal to a conception of politics as a practice, indeed as a practice that
is indispensable in each human life. For it is in the province of practices
that common goods ‚Ä“ goods that are constitutive of, and partially deÔ¬Āne,
individual‚Ä™s goods ‚Ä“ can be realized. And it is only common goods that can
provide the normative support for successful political justiÔ¬Ācations.
Does it make sense to conceive of politics as a practice? If ‚Ępolitics‚Ä™ is
understood simply as large-scale jockeying for power or wealth, then its
concern is with external goods only, and it cannot constitute a practice.
But there is a not-unfamiliar human activity that naturally arises within
human communities that has the salient characteristics of a practice and that
MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

MacIntyre takes to be properly political. Every human society is marked by
the presence of a multiplicity of practices, and individual human lives are
characteristically marked by participation in a number of practices. Each
individual inevitably faces questions about how the practices in one‪s life
are to be ordered. If I am a father and a member of a Ô¬Āshing crew, my
good is partially deÔ¬Āned in terms of the goods of family life and partially
in terms of the goods of Ô¬Āshing, and I will need to determine how best
to order those practices, and the goods internal to them, in my life. But
we face similar questions within our communities about how the various
practices within these communities are to be ordered. What places should
such goods as Ô¬Āshing, family life, academic inquiry, aesthetic endeavor,
and athletic achievement have in our common life? This is a question that
members of a community face in common, and must deliberate about in
common: the answers that one reaches on this question depend on the
answers reached by others (MacIntyre 1997b, p. 240).
So consider the question that arises in communities of any complexity:
how are the practices, and the goods internal to these practices, to be or-
dered in this community? This is a practical question: it is not for the sake of
speculation but for action. There is a range of excellences that are necessary
for answering this question well, and there is a range of capacities that are
developed through successive attempts to answer these questions in com-
mon. An adequate explication of these excellences and developed capacities,
and of the worthwhile activity engaged in by those attempting to answer
this question, cannot be offered except in terms of the activity itself. There
are goods internal to the activity of attempting to answer questions about
how the practices in a community‪s life are to be ordered. This activity is,
therefore, a practice. And it is this practice that MacIntyre understands the
practice of politics to be.
Politics is, then, a second-order practice: its goods are those of delib-
eration about practices.2 It is, as MacIntyre understands it, an intensely
cognitive activity. All practices are to some extent cognitive. Consider foot-
ball, for example. Participation in a practice such as football involves not
just the playing of football ‚Ä“ playing which includes a signiÔ¬Ācant component
of intelligent thought and judgment ‚Ä“ but also the assessment of one‚Ä™s own
and others‚Ä™ playing of the game, and the assessment of the standards by
which playing is assessed. Politics is, however, cognitive in an even deeper
way: its activity is practical reasoning, reasoning for the sake of action. Its
activity is common practical reasoning about the common life.
Politics is a practice that is indispensable to the achievement of one‪s
individual good. The notion that some particular practice would be

indispensable with respect to the achievement of one‪s good has a strange
ring to it. If one were to say that participation in the practice of architec-
ture, or badminton, were essential to the achievement of one‪s good, this
would seem strange indeed. But politics has a special place, on MacIntyre‪s
view. It has a special place because it is the practice best suited to the de-
velopment of one‪s rational powers, because of its role as a master practice
organizing the various other practices (MacIntyre 1997b, p. 243). Engaging
in politics involves deliberation about the whole range of goods available
to humans, and thus is the most demanding and enriching of the various
Suppose that MacIntyre is right about the goods internal to politics,
and the central place that those goods should have in a human life. How
does one proceed from these claims to the conclusion that there is some pos-
sible set of political institutions whose authority we would be reasonable to
accept? While MacIntyre takes it to be a terrible mistake to confuse prac-
tices with institutions, he also thinks that institutions are indispensable for
practices: “No practices can survive for any length of time unsustained by
institutions‚ÄĚ (After Virtue, p. 194). The institutions of governance that have
a rightful claim to our obedience and allegiance are those that sustain and
make possible the practice of politics. From our understanding of the prac-
tice of politics, sketchy as it is, we can see that such an institution would
have to be one that made possible effective common deliberation.
By effective common deliberation I mean deliberation by everyone in
a political community, the outcome of which is a set of common actions.
When it is going well, political deliberation, on MacIntyre‪s view, includes
all persons, for there is no one who has nothing to teach that is relevant
from the point of view of how goods should be ordered within a political
community‪s life. This is a point on which MacIntyre takes great pains
to insist in his most recent work. Those whose temporary or permanent
disabilities prevent their personally taking part, MacIntyre argues, should
not be excluded from political deliberation. It is crucial that those who are
thus disabled have proxies to speak for them, from their perspective. Only
one who is a friend to such a person will be able to be his or her voice in
political inquiry, for only a friend can know someone sufÔ¬Āciently intimately
(Dependent Rational Animals, p. 150).
So one crucial matter is that governing institutions must preserve and
foster an arena of inquiry in which rational investigation into the good
can be pursued, an arena from which no one is excluded. But governing
institutions must also make the outcomes of these deliberations effective.
Just as individual practical reasoning, when adequately carried out, issues
MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

in individual action, political practical reasoning, when adequately carried
out, issues in political action. Governing institutions make effective the de-
cisions reached in common deliberation by members of the political com-
munity through the promulgation of directives, directives which call for the
allegiance of the participants in the practice.
Invariably the practice of politics, and the institutions sustaining that
practice, will have to be exempliÔ¬Āed on a small scale. Politics, conceived and
carried out as a practice, is on MacIntyre‪s view invariably a local matter.
This view, MacIntyre emphasizes, is not based in some love of the local as
such. It is simply a brute truth that the conditions under which common
deliberation can take place require a small community. The very size of the
typical modern state precludes state politics from being a matter of common
deliberation (Dependent Rational Animals, p. 131). In the same vein, politics,
conceived and carried out as a practice, requires a shared culture. But the
value of such a political community is not constituted by its possession of
a shared culture; having a shared culture is simply a condition sine qua
non for the carrying out of rational inquiry in common into the good. The
shared culture that is necessary is a culture of deliberation, the very sort of
culture that is needed for one to pursue in common an investigation that can
put one‪s traditions and shared culture to the question (MacIntyre 1997b,
p. 241).
It is with MacIntyre‪s emphasis on the good of politics being a good of
inquiry that we can look back to the worries that MacIntyre entertains about
the virtue of patriotism. In section 1 I noted that in his Lindley Lecture
MacIntyre considers the views of the patriotic antiliberal and the antipatri-
otic liberal and raises objections to each of their positions, objections that are
never satisfactorily resolved. We have seen already that MacIntyre‪s worry
about antipatriotic liberalism is just that the carrying out of liberal objec-
tives may very well require the sort of particular allegiance characteristic of
patriotism that liberalism seems unable to provide. By contrast, MacIntyre‪s
worry about patriotism is simply that it involves one in a kind of blindness.
To be a patriot, MacIntyre says, is to exempt from criticism one‪s political
community, at least in some respect: MacIntyre identiÔ¬Āes this respect with
one‪s political community conceived as a project (MacIntyre 1984e, p. 221).
The liberal critic notes that the sustenance of one‪s political community as a
project can be contrary to the best interests of humankind impartially con-
sidered, and so patriotism presents a certain moral danger. But it seems to
me that MacIntyre‚Ä™s present identiÔ¬Ācation of the goods internal to political
life with goods of inquiry blunts the liberal‪s criticism here. For the point
is that it will only be within properly functioning political communities as

MacIntyre understands them that reasoners will have adequate resources
for putting anything effectively into question at all. To put it another way:
the liberal‪s worry is that allegiance to one‪s political community will make
one unable to engage in rational criticism of one‪s political community in
light of potentially competing goods. But MacIntyre‪s point is that a po-
litical community, when in good condition, is just that sort of community
in which one is enabled to engage in rational criticism of one‪s political
community in light of potentially competing goods. Making clear that the
project of a justiÔ¬Āable political community is a project of rational inquiry
enables the patriot to have allegiance to his or her political community with-
out being subject to the criticism that patriotism involves a self-imposed
moral blindness.
That the practice of politics offers a good that is common to members
of a political society makes possible, on MacIntyre‪s view, a successful so-
lution to the problem of political justiÔ¬Ācation. But it also points the way
to an account of political justice ‚Ä“ something that the neutralist state, with
its refusal to appeal to anything more than a thin conception of the public
interest, seemed unable to provide. The inability of plain persons to come
to agreement in matters of political justice, an inability echoed in the stale-
mates in debate in academic philosophy, is a result of the loss of the notion
of the common good of political life, a good which can serve as the stan-
dard for matters of justice (After Virtue, pp. 250‚Ä“251). Political justice is
ultimately a matter of what members of the political community deserve.
MacIntyre here is, again, deeply Aristotelian: for one to be deserving of
some goods, or some bads, there must be a common enterprise, and those
who are more deserving have contributed more to that good, and those who
are less deserving have contributed less. Further, there must be some shared
view as to how contributions to the common enterprise are to be measured
and how rewards are to be ranked (After Virtue, pp. 150‚Ä“154; Whose Jus-
tice?, pp. 106‚Ä“107). Because this is so, questions of justice cannot even begin
to be answered without the presence of those conditions under which the
proper ordering of the practices within a community can be the object of
deliberation. For the good, contribution to which is the ultimate standard
of justice, and the scale of goods and bads that determines the deserts for
members of the political community, can be known only through political
deliberation. Members of the political community will deserve more or less
depending on their contributions to the various practices that constitute the
life of the community, but the importance of their contributions can only
be assessed once some sort of ordering of these goods, albeit a provisional
one, is reached.
MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

Questions of political justice are going to be, to some extent, depen-
dent upon the conditions that hold in a particular community: for what
members of that community deserve is going to depend on the proper or-
dering of practices within that community, and how practices are properly
ordered will depend on contingent circumstances. There is no guarantee
that there is one ordering of goods that is appropriate for every political
community, and thus there is no guarantee that the particular desert that
attaches to contributions to speciÔ¬Āc practices will be the same for all po-
litical communities.3 But to allow that there is some variability in political
justice among political communities is not thereby to allow that there are no
nontrivial standards of justice that hold in all political communities. These
universal standards of justice MacIntyre identiÔ¬Āes with the precepts of the
natural law.
The precepts of the natural law, as MacIntyre understands them, are
in one sense substantive: they preclude an agent from engaging in certain
sorts of attack on others, thus establishing these others as immune from
certain harms. But the precepts of the natural law, as MacIntyre under-
stand them, are in another sense procedural: they are justiÔ¬Āed as those
precepts that all agents must observe in order to engage in common enter-
prises, which are, we should keep in mind, always at least in part enterprises
of common inquiry. As procedural, they are enabling rules4 that enable
persons to pursue ends in common, rather than mere side constraints on
What needs explanation is how the substantive and the procedural as-
pects of the natural law come together on MacIntyre‪s view. The idea is
that it is essential to the pursuit of common ends that those pursuing them
be able to expect immunity from certain sorts of harm at the hands of oth-
ers. Think about it this way. Common projects are threatened by anything
that disrupts, that makes impossible for a time, the communal ties of those
that are participating in them. And certain kinds of harm ‚Ä“ lies, betrayals,
assaults, and so forth ‚Ä“ invariably disrupt the communal relationships that
make common inquiry and pursuit of goods possible. The natural law abso-
lutely forbids us from performing such actions. We have reason to adhere
to those precepts because adherence enables common pursuit of common
goods, goods that are, as we have already seen, partially constitutive of and
deÔ¬Āning of our individual goods.
One might wonder why these precepts are absolute in form, rather than,
for example: “refrain from (e.g.) assaults when refraining from assaults bet-
ter promotes the pursuit of the common good than assaulting does.‚ÄĚ After
all, we can conjure up cases in which it might appear that the common

good of a group might be better promoted by acting contrary to allegedly
absolute precepts of the natural law. MacIntyre‪s reply would be that it
is crucial to the preservation of the communal relationships necessary for
common inquiry that those involved in that inquiry not be willing to cal-
culate whether assaulting, lying to, or betraying another member of the
enterprise will better promote that enterprise. I cannot have the relation-
ship of complete trust in a fellow inquirer into and pursuer of the good if this
fellow evinces a willingness, on some occasions, to lie to, betray, or assault
me. The natural law requires respect for “the preconditions of a kind of
rational conversation in which no one need fear being victimized by others
as the outcome of their engagement with those others.‚ÄĚ (MacIntyre 1994a,
p. 184)
The natural law, on MacIntyre‪s view, is eminently knowable. Partici-
pants in practices come naturally to be aware of its precepts because if a
particular exempliÔ¬Ācation of a practice fails to recognize them that exem-
pliÔ¬Ācation will disintegrate. Those who participate in practices must have
at least some sort of implicit awareness of the principles of the natural law,
so that a basic, tacit knowledge of it can be ascribed to them; formulation
of the principles of the natural law is thus an exercise in making explicit
in reÔ¬‚ection what is implicit in practice. (See MacIntyre 1997a, in which
MacIntyre considers the views of Anthony Lisska [Lisska 1996], John Finnis
[Finnis 1980], and himself on this issue.) It is a signal merit of MacIntyre‪s
account of the natural law that it is subject to empirical testing in a way that
other recent conceptions of natural law seem not to be.5 Note that even
within the practice of philosophical inquiry as presently carried out ‚Ä“ which
is on the whole extraordinarily hostile to natural law thinking ‚Ä“ there seems
to be a widespread, if usually implicit, agreement on the principles of the
natural law as MacIntyre characterizes them. Philosophers, even though
highly critical of natural law thinking, take a very dim view of false citation,
betrayal of one‪s colleagues, and assault on one‪s philosophical enemies. It is
not just that they reject the correctness of an argument that one might give
on a particular occasion that false citation, betrayal, or assault ultimately
furthers the good of philosophical inquiry. It is that they reject any appeal to
a consequentialist weighing as being inappropriate. So even the activity of
those that are deeply skeptical of natural law thinking gives some testimony
to the truth of MacIntyre‪s account of the natural law (MacIntyre 1994a,
pp. 173‚Ä“174).
The conclusions for politics, then, are straightforward. Those institu-
tions that support the practice of politics must recognize and adhere to the
precepts of natural law if they are to be worthy of allegiance. And whether
MacIntyre‪s Political Philosophy

such institutions are upholding the natural law is a matter to which all
persons, through the eminent knowability of the natural law, are compe-
tent to pass judgment. No political institutions are insusceptible to the
critical scrutiny of those living under them, at least with respect to the most
basic matters of justice (MacIntyre 1996a, p. 68).
Now, MacIntyre‪s recent endorsement of natural law as central to an
adequate conception of politics raises a question about the extent to which
MacIntyre‪s views have undergone a transformation since After Virtue. In
that work MacIntyre had echoed Bentham‪s assessment of natural rights
as nonsense on stilts and had equated belief in natural rights with belief
in witches and unicorns (After Virtue, p. 69). In recent work, however, he
is perfectly happy to talk about natural law; and natural law requires the
recognition of an immunity of a rational inquirer to certain sorts of harm
at the hands of others. But what is the recognition of this sort of immunity
other than the recognition of a natural right?
I do not think that MacIntyre‪s views on this matter have altered: nat-
ural rights are still, on his view, nonsense on stilts. That there are certain
ways that human beings ought not to be treated, and that the fact that they
ought not to be treated thus is not due to convention but nature, is not
sufÔ¬Ācient for the existence of a natural right. What is key is the locus of
justiÔ¬Ācation for the immunity ‚Ä“ what gives point and purpose to refraining
from treating others in a certain way. Natural rights doctrines are charac-
teristically individualistic in at least the following sense: each of them holds
that the immunities that a human being enjoys by nature have as their locus
of justiÔ¬Ācation something intrinsic to that human being. Either that indi-
vidual‪s good (the so-called Interest conception of rights; see, for example,
Raz 1986, pp. 165‚Ä“192), or that individual‚Ä™s choice about how to live his or


ŮÚū. 5
(‚ŮŚ„Ó 7)