According to Alasdair MacIntyre

Note: This is an essay I wrote when I was in college and still a baby philosopher. I wrote this essay back in 2014 for my Moral Theory course.

MacIntyre claims that Nietzsche and Aristotle offer the only two plausible theoretical alternatives for understanding the moral condition of our culture: “Either one must follow through the aspirations and the collapse of the different versions of the Enlightenment project until there remains only the Nietzschean diagnosis and the Nietzschean problematic or one must hold that the Enlightenment project was not only mistaken, but should never have been commenced in the first place.” (118) Nietzsche’s insight in terms of moral theory was that various modern “appeals to objectivity were in fact expressions of subjective will” (113). In one of MacIntyre’s chapters, he seeks to vindicate Aristotle’s pre-modern moral theory as both viable and valuable for addressing the inescapable question each person must practically face: “What sort of person am I to become?” (118).

Chapter 10 of After Virtue—The Virtues in Heroic Societies (focus on 121-123; first ¶ of 126-129)

According to MacIntyre, what’s the chief means of moral education in classical cultures?
Telling stories, and not only stories based on sacred texts such as the Bible but stories in general or poems or sagas. (121-123)

How does this compare to the way we receive our “moral education” today?
Before morality and social structure were one, there was no distinction between them. In our present emotivist modern society we detach ourselves from any standpoint or view and we judge from the outside. This was unthought-of of in heroic societies, because a man knew who he was because of society, his actions and duties to his or her fellow kins and friends determined whom he was. Pg(126-127)

According to MacIntyre, what’s the relationship between morality and the social structure in heroic society?
There was no distinction. The exercise of virtue or ‘arete’ required a kind of human being and a particular kind of social structure. Every individual had already a certain role he had to play out in a determinate societal structure. “Morality and social structure are in fact one and the same in a heroic society.’’ (Pg. 123-126)

What two relevant lessons does MacIntyre think we can learn from heroic societies?
That society can’t be detached from our morality, that a universality of freedom is an illusion, and that there is no way to posses virtue except as a part of a tradition in which we inherit them and not only inherit these values but a certain perspective of them. We are a creation of our past and we can’t eradicate it. (Pg. 126-130)

Chapter 12—Aristotle’s Account of the Virtues

SUMMARY of Aristotle’s ethics: “Human beings, like the members of all other species, have a specific nature; and that nature is such that they have certain aims and goals, such that they move by nature towards a specific telos. The good is defined in terms of their specific characteristics. Hence Aristotle’s ethics, expounded as he expounds it, presupposes his metaphysical biology. Aristotle thus sets himself the task of giving an account of the good which is at once local and particular—located in and partially defined by the characteristics of the polis—and yet also cosmic and universal” (148).

Chapter 13—Medieval Aspects and Occasions

KEY CLAIM: “In much of the ancient and medieval worlds, as in many other premodern societies, the individual is identified and constituted in and through certain of his or her roles… I confront the world as a member of this family, this household, this clan, this nation, this kingdom. There is no ‘I’ apart from these…What does make a difference for the Catholic Christian is that I, whatever earthly community I may belong to, am also held to be a member of a heavenly eternal community in which I also have a role, a community represented on earth by the church” (172).

Ch. 14—The Nature of the Virtues

What three “very different conceptions of virtue” does MacIntyre outline in the first few pages of this chapter?
Homer’s conception of virtue, Aristotle’s and the New Testament.

How does MacIntyre attempt to unify these various conceptions of virtue?
By explaining how they all claim for a universal allegiance. “Every one of these accounts claims not only theoretical, but also an institutional hegemony.’’ (Pg. 186)

How does MacIntyre define a practice?
He defines it as “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 standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive 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.’’ (Pg. 187) Fiuuf, long sentence there, buddy!

Can you give an example of a practice discussed by MacIntyre?
The practice of hospitality or welcoming of a stranger even though they might share different perspective on what is virtue. This hospitality could derive for instance from the social embodiment of the Christian tradition based on the commandment of loving your neighbor.

How are “all subjectivist and emotivist analyses of judgment” ruled out within a practice?
Because these practices can only be judged within a social context, within a framework that already exists and we can’t detach ourselves from. Also because in order to perfect a practice we must be subject to authority, “thus the standards are not themselves immune from criticism, but nonetheless we cannot be initiated into a practice without accepting authority of the best standards realized so far.’’ (Pg. 190)

What’s the difference between external goods and internal goods?
Internal goods are those goods that one gains and achieves only by engaging in the practice itself. If you want the benefits that for instance, karate provides, you will have to practice karate. In pursuing karate, you will not only learn karate but also acquire patience, discipline amongst other virtues. By external goods, MacIntyre is referring to any kinds of goods that make up someone else’s property, and the more someone has of these goods the less there is for anyone else, for instance, money, power, and fame. (Pg. 190-191)

How does MacIntyre define virtue?
An acquired human quality the possession and exercise of which tends to enable us to achieve those goods which are internal to practices and the lack of which effectively prevents us from achieving any goods.’’ (Pg. 191)

How do the virtues discussed by MacIntyre—truthfulness, justice, and courage—transcend the private moral standpoints of various individuals and the particular moral codes of various societies?
Practices arise in different societies with different codes of morality but these virtues are virtues, which characterize us and others, and our relationships, regardless of our private moral standpoint or our society’s particular moral code. (Pg. 192-193)

How does MacIntyre’s account of the virtues as necessary for sustaining practices relate to his criticism of liberal individualism?
“For liberal individualism a community is simply an arena in which individuals each pursue their own self-chosen conception of the good life, and political institutions exist to prove degree of order, which makes such self-determined activity possible.” (Pg. 195) In order to understand the complex relationship between social institutions and morality, we need to write a true history that encompasses both; we will not understand this history unless we highlight the history of virtues and vices as well.

After unifying the various conceptions of virtue by providing a background account of practices, what problem still remains for MacIntyre to address?
The question of whether is it rationally justifiable to conceive of each individual life as a unity. “So that we may understand the virtues as having their function in enabling an individual to make of his or her life one kind of unity rather than another?’’ (Pg. 203)