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426 HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY After Virtue, a study in moral theory. By Alasdair MacIntyre. Notre Dame, Indiana: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981. ix + 252 pages. $15.95. This is a rich work: about the deterioration of western morality from its early heroic age to the present barbarism; about the fragmentation and growing incoherence of ethical theory that accompanies the deterioriation; about the shape that self and society have increasingly taken; and about the concepts through which we can gain an understanding of the process. MacIntyre sees our moral crisis as the consequence of the historical rejection of an Aristotelian moral scheme in which the role of the virtues is dominant, reflecting a society of shared goods. It has been replaced progressively by a rank individualism whose theory flowered in the Enlightenment's view of the atomic individual with his private desires and objectives. Hence liberal individualism is identified as the antithesis -and the opponent---of Aristotelian community. For liberalism the central problem of moral theory was how to constrain individual desires and interests. Its concepts moved through the array of social passions such as altruism (Hume and Adam Smith), enlightened self-interest dictating universal goods (Bentham), and universal moral principles enforced by the individual sense of duty and obligation (Kant et al.). On Maclntyre's view the problem is insoluble as long as it retains its individualistic cast. All such theories are to be regarded either as out-and-out emotivism or as reflecting an emotivist attitude which leaves to private choice, feelings, or will what are to be the goods, ends, and standards. As emotivism takes over, contemporary ethical theorists are left with the flotsam and jetsam of moral concepts whose meanings have been lost. Efforts to manipulate these conceptual fragments--this is how MacIntyre sees the analytic ethics of our century--have the bizarre quality of groping among symbols whose cultural and social moorings are long gone. Since Nietzsche openly attacked the tradition of morality and moral philosophy in the name of the will, MacIntyre symbolizes our theoretical choice as Nietzsche versus Aristotle. The intimate relation of theory and practice is integral to MacIntyre's argument. He focuses directly on the social relations and the historical character of human life in terms of which virtues are defined and understood. He traces the tradition of the virtues from early (e.g., Homeric) society through classical Greece, the middle ages, and the modern world. It is a history in which the virtues have dwindled and evaporated . Honesty, truthfulness, loyalty and the rest have become marginal in our patterns of living; governmental and legal institutions function to keep peace, not to settle on rational grounds claims stemming from rival views of justice. Shared goods have given way to the development of the individual as a social institution and to competitiveness as a market mode of life. Even moral philosophy has forgotten to deal with virtue; it has moved from the concrete socially-grounded virtues to a thin conception of virtue in general and ends in our present after-virtue hollowness. The self becomes a bare self, lacking any constitutive social relations or inherent moral ties. It is thus without any constant commitment to criteria in moral judgment beyond what it accepts or rejects arbitrarily. BOOK REVIEWS 427 MacIntyre reconstructs the core concept of virtue by a logical analysis in terms of practices, narrative unity, and tradition. He focuses on practices (e.g., farming, physics, the political life) that are socially established cooperative forms of activity involving internal goods available only through participation and generate standards of excellence and binding authoritative rules. Practices are sustained by virtues of justice, courage and honesty that define and support relations among practitioners and shared goals and goods. But virtues are not exhibited in a few activities and the goods of practices are multiple. A larger frame is needed to integrate our actions and render them intelligible. "What is he doing?" or "What am I to do?" become intelligible by an account of practices or intentions in their interrelation. We provide a narrative unity in which we are subject, major character, and coauthor. Narratives are unpredictable in outcome but with some constraints, and exhibit a...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 426-429
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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