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After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Second Edition Paperback – August 30, 1984

4.4 out of 5 stars 30 customer reviews

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Morality, according to Alasdair MacIntyre, is not what it used to be. In the Aristotelian tradition of ancient Greece and medieval Europe, morality enabled the transformation from untutored human nature as it happened to be to human nature as it could be if it realized its telos (fundamental goal). Eventually, belief in Aristotelian teleology waned, leaving the idea of imperfect human nature in conflict with the perfectionist aims of morality. The conflict dooms to failure any attempt to justify the claims of morality, whether based on emotion, such as Hume's was, or on reason, as in the case of Kant. The result is that moral discourse and practice in the contemporary world is hollow: although the language and appearance of morality remains, the substance is no longer there. Disagreements on moral matters appeal to incommensurable values and so are interminable; the only use of moral language is manipulative.

The claims presented in After Virtue are certainly audacious, but the historical erudition and philosophical acuity behind MacIntyre's powerful critique of modern moral philosophy cannot be disregarded. Moreover, independently of its principal claims, the book, first published in 1981, helped to stimulate philosophical work on the virtues, to reinvigorate traditionalist and communitarian thought, and to provoke valuable discussion in the history of moral philosophy. It was so widely discussed that MacIntyre added another chapter to the second edition in order to reply to his critics. After Virtue continues to deserve attention from philosophers, historians, and anyone interested in moral philosophy and its history. --Glenn Branch


"After Virtue is a major contribution to contemporary ethical theory." -- America, November 14, 1981

"A provocative analysis of moral philosophy that warrants the attention of all moral philosophers, whatever their perspective." -- International Philosopical Quarterly, September 1982

"Not only an intellectually provocative book, but a sober and urgent one." -- The Key Reporter, Vol.XLVII, no.1, Fall 1981

"[A] vigorous and insightful work. . . .MacIntyre's strength is not in resolving our conflicts, but in challenging our assumptions." -- The Independent, July 4-17, 1986

"[O]ne of the most important books of the decade. . . ." -- Commonweal, February 1982

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press; 2nd edition (August 30, 1984)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0268006113
  • ISBN-13: 978-0268006112
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 5.9 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (30 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #181,261 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
After Virtue is a delightful book which presents the contemporary problem of moral philosophy today. MacIntyre says that there is an interminability of moral debate today. No consensus solution to the variety of moral issues such as abortion and war will present itself because proponents of both sides of the arguments in these two issues argue from a different set of premises from a different tradition of moral philosophy. You have Thomistic ideals of the value of life and justice against Rousseauist ideals of individuality, for example, in life issues. Can any of the enlightenment moral philosophies really help us make rational, clear decisions about the morality of a particular decision? MacIntyre investigates the moral philosophies of Kant, Hume, & Kierkegard, showing how each of them miserably fail as possible moral systems. Utilitarianism, pragmatism, and emotivism are also wonderfully skewered. With what are we left? It seems as if after the failure of these systems we are left with the Nietzschean amorality of total chaotic relativism. MacIntyre understands the enigma of Nietzsche's ideas and shows how his attacks toppled the pompous, arrogant ideals of the Enlightenment. But Nietzsche's system seems impossible from a human standpoint, since, for example, we are left with the unsettling discovery that events such as the Holocaust are not really "wrong" in any objective sense. MacIntyre interjects that there is another alternative: go back to the source of the Enlightenment project.Read more ›
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Format: Paperback
I read this book conflicted. On the one hand the book contained sentences, frequent sentences, of such numbing bodilessness as "For beside rights and utility, among the central moral fictions of the age we have to place the peculiarly managerial fiction embodied in the claim to possess systematic effectiveness in controlling certain aspects of social reality." On the other hand the book was so fascinating I could scarcely put it down at points. It felt like masochism.

All this to say: MacIntyre writes a moral thriller of great drama and urgency. He writes it with a tactic used by more conventional suspense novelists like Ruth Rendell: give the end at the beginning, then explain how such a bizarre and catastrophic end came to be. Our moral language assumes a universality we do not believe, he argues at the beginning. How have our moral beliefs become so ruptured from (and so much smaller than) the language we use to describe them? That rupture is the history he traces. The setting is the Western world; the characters are philosophers; the plot is the murder of Aristotle. Who killed him? Was it Hume in the Enlightenment with the candlestick? Was it Machiavelli in the Renaissance? Was it Kierkegaard the Dane with a book: Enten-Eller? Was it the Bloomsbury group with their emotivist approach to ethics? Was it, after all has been said and done, Nietzsche?

And, can Aristotle (and his teleological view of morality) be brought back to life?

MacIntyre's style is that of a perfectly trustworthy guide. He fends off more counter-arguments than I could have generated for him in a lifetime. "How is he going to get out of this scrape he's just identified?" I asked myself, and rested in peace that he would.
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Format: Paperback
In this work Alasdair MacIntyre argues that morality as we currently understand it has suffered a great disaster. As a result of the Enlightenment project's failed attempt to justify morality on its own terms, as MacIntyre argues, we are left with nothing more than shards of a once complete and coherent moral tradition. As a result the current state of morality is a form of emotivism, according to MacIntyre. MacIntyre's argument comes to a head when, in ch. 9, he claims that we must either go the way of Nietzsche's critique of morality or opt for a reworked version of Aristotle's ethics in which our moral claims can be justified.
This work is, in part, resoponsible for the renewed interest in virtue ethics among contemoporary moral philosophers. Regardless of whether one ultimately affirms or denies MacIntyre's conclusions this work is necessary reading for anyone who wishes to keep informed of current debates in moral philosophy.
Along these same lines I would recommend MacIntyre's other works which include Three Rival Versions and Whose Justice? Which Rationality? as well as Bernard Williams' Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, and John Rawls' Political Liberalism.
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Writing polemics in support of virtue became something of a cottage industry in the '90's. This is one of the texts that drove that trend. Fortunately, its tone is not polemical in the slightest. MacIntyre's argument is measured and well-reasoned, and he gives several useful concepts for addressing moral issues, e.g., institutional *practices* that provide internal rather than external goods, and narratives and stories as constitutive of human existence.
It's an involved argument, and at least partly relies upon a reading of intellectual history for its strength. For MacIntyre, upon investigation there are only two consistent moral viewpoints: one associated with Aristotle that views morality as objectively valid and rational because it's based on a natural teleology and sees that morality exercised through the development of virtues and intricately entwined with them, another, based upon Nietsche, which sees morality only as a mask for irrational power.
Lucid and well-written. Highly recommended.
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