Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue

Summary by Kate Ristau

Alastair Macintyre begins his book "After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory" with a premise: what if science was abolished and revived again years later? In the revival, people would use the language and concepts of science in a confusing and disordered way. They would use the words, but would not understand the deeper meanings, connections and concepts behind the verbiage. Macintyre suggests that this is the current state of the language of morality; it is the "fragments of a conceptual scheme" (2). The language of morality, Macintyre insists, was created many years ago and also underwent a great catastrophe prior to the beginnings of academic history. Thus, academic discourse on morality remains largely blind and lacking the language to describe moral order and disorder (4). The users of this language of morality are lost in vacant expressions.

In chapter 18, Macintyre explores the inappropriate discrediting of Aristotelian philosophy. He explains that after moral philosophers discredited Aristotle's views and many other alternative accounts of nature and morality, Nietzsche's stance that all structures of moral belief should be abolished seemed plausible (256). Macintyre argues that this plausibility is denied if the system of Aristotelian tradition was not wrong (257). The Aristotelian tradition of morality can actually be viewed in a different light. As Macintyre points out, the moral opposition lies between Nietzsche's liberal individualism and the Aristotelian tradition. He asserts that Nietzsche's liberal individualistic viewpoint lacks a coherent and rationally defensible core tenet, while Aristotle's tradition can be restated to restore moral rationality (259).

Macintyre goes on to represent three objections that could be made to his argument, the first being it suggests a systematic 'account of rationality" (260). The second set of objections would concern his actual interpretation of Aristotelian tradition, which greatly departs from many scholars. The third, and his area of main concern, would be objections that the primary moral opposition does not lie between liberal individualism and Aristotle, but actually lies between liberal individualism and some form of Marxism (261). Macintyre rejects this last opposition with two claims. First, Marxism appeals to abstract moral principles that it condemns in other systems (261). Secondly, Marxism is inherently optimistic (262). Marxism inevitably transforms into a Weberian social democracy, assuming that everything a society needs for a better future is being accumulated (262).

Macintyre's point is not that Marxism is a useless political philosophy. Rather, he is arguing it is not the sole, prime source for philosophical debate: it is "exhausted as a political tradition" (262). Which leads Macintyre back to his original point: the true debate lies between liberal individualism and Aristotelian tradition. The Marxist debate is linguistically and philosophically stifling. Rethinking Aristotle opens up a whole new (or old?) realm of discourse.

How does this article address the larger issues we have dealt with in class? It does so by addressing framework, point of view, and perspective. If we are working in a specific philosophical tradition, we are limited to the discourse of that tradition. For example, while writing a paper on "The Coffinman," our perspective, or range of ideas, is limited by which philosophical traditions we are familiar with. How do you describe "Pine Land" if you are not familiar with the concept? Would you frame the book differently if you were reading the beginning chapters from a Marxist perspective? How would that differ from an Aristotelian one? Alistair Macintyre argues that an Aristotelian perspective opens up a range of possibilities which are not present in a Marxist or Nietzschian discourse, allowing the reader to reach new realms of understanding within the text, ergo the world. I wonder how he would frame Eastern philosophers?