After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, Third Edition 3rd Edition, Kindle Edition
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1) Why are there so many types of moral disagreements in modern societies?
2) Why do these disagreements never seem to end but go on indefinitely?
3) Can any moral theory be related to actual facts or is all moral language sui generis?
Not surprisingly, MacIntyre traces most of these problems to those thinkers of the Enlightenment yet it would be a MISTAKE (as the first reviewer makes) in thinking that MacIntyre is somehow laying the blame solely on the Enlightenment for the current situation. Rather, his whole thesis is that they did the best they could in defending in what they thought was the CONTENT of morality (the culture of post-Enlightenment Europe being as it were a mix of
Christian values with an intense admiration of newly re-discovered Greco-Roman pagan texts on a range of subjects) with their own philosophical methods (See Hume's reasoning on why women should remain chaste until marriage). MacIntyre's insight is that they HAD to fail. No philosophical brilliance they could muster could save the CONTENT they wished to save (for example,"always tell your mother the truth") with their prescribed METHODS of doing philosophy (for example a la Kant, "all moral laws have the character of being assented to by all rational persons at all times in all cultures"). The Enlightenment thinkers chose an impossible task and thus failed (and moreover had to fail in such a way that their failure was relatively hidden from the thinkers themselves and their respective cultures at large). It is only with Nietzche do we have a thinker brave enough to raze the CONTENT they wished to save with the METHODS and start totally anew.
Thus, half-way through the book, MacIntyre offers the reader a stark choice: either we must choose that all moral talk (talk of right & wrong) is really an attempt to impose one's will on another person a la Nietzsche or that there is form of moral language that is not undercut by Nietzsche's own rather devastating attack on (post-)Enlightenment moral theories.
Hence begins MacIntyre's foray from critique to laying out a positive philosophical programme that leads to several books (See Whose Justice? Which Rationality? &Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues (Paul Carus Lectures) especially) and a refining of his ideas.
Does Nietzsche win?
That is for the reader to decide. MacIntyre has been steadily producing a body of work that tries to show that Nietzsche does not win (it starts as a whisper in this book and finally gets turned into a shout in later works). However, like all philosophy, his attempt is an argument, and it is up to the reader to decide if it is a good one.
5 stars, hands down. I really hope you decide to buy(or check-out) this important work which deserves to taken seriously for years to come. ( 20 and counting!)
The strength of MacIntyre's work is his sustained critique of modernity and the "natural rights" tradition. He reintroduces the concept of "narrative" as an ethical tool. I will highlight the main ideas:
The Ghost of "Human Rights"
Rights have a highly specific character and are resistant to the idea of universality. The language of rights talk differs from century to century and place to place, at each moment reflecting more the demands of th community rather than the story of humanity. And when rights are attempted to be universal in scope, they reflect, not the needs of humanity, but the agenda of the powered elite. Rights talk can be rehabilitated, but only in terms of local community's narrative.
Contrary to his critics, MacIntyre is not arguing for a naive return to Aristotle. Rather, he points out the resilience of the Aristotelian tradition and then critiques its shortcomings. He uses Aristotle as a foil against Nietzsche. The importance of virtue at this point is not simply to demonstrate that Aristotle is the last word in ethics, but to show that it is impossible for consistent moderns to be virtuous. A virtue can only be understood in light of its telos (184). "The" good orders "our" goods. Modernity, accordingly, lacks such a telos--or rather has competing teloi.
Man is a story-telling animal. We enter life with other characters and we have to learn what they are in order to understand how others respond to us (216). In ethics we learn the role we are to play. My narrative is inter-locking with the narratives of other members of the community. The telos, then, gives unity to this diversity of narratives. The telos allows me to see the whole of the narrative and the narrative gives clarity to the attempted moral vision (219).
What is the good life? The good life is one spent seeking for the good life. The virtues necessary for the good life enables me to understand what the good life is (219). Life is a journey and virtue is the map.
MacIntyre's work is dense and often hard to read. Most of the discussions of analytic philosophy were lost on me. While I thoroughly enjoyed his critique of natural rights, I think he spent too much time on it and then conclusion could have been clearer. The section on narratival ethics was outstanding. Contrary to the blurb on the back, his afterword really doesn't deal with the integration of Aristotle and biblical theology.
This work deserves its pride of place as one of the most important philosophical works of the 20th century.
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