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After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  4,701 ratings  ·  340 reviews
When After Virtue first appeared in 1981, it was recognized as a significant and potentially controversial critique of contemporary moral philosophy. Newsweek called it “a stunning new study of ethics by one of the foremost moral philosophers in the English-speaking world.” Since that time, the book has been translated into more than fifteen foreign languages and has sold ...more
Paperback, Second Edition, 304 pages
Published August 30th 1984 by University of Notre Dame Press (first published September 28th 1982)
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Nicolás Delgado While not explicitly mentioned in the book, MacIntyre goes to mention that documents such as that are children to the Enlightenment project of justify…moreWhile not explicitly mentioned in the book, MacIntyre goes to mention that documents such as that are children to the Enlightenment project of justifying morality outside a teleological framework. He explicitly states this project is doomed to failure. This is in accordance with his general rejection of human rights theory as currently understood. On this subject, I recomend Nonsense On Stilts, a collection of essays from Bentham, Burke and Marx on human rights. These thinkers represent vastly distant traditions, but agree on rejecting them. Cheers.(less)
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David Gross
Feb 22, 2008 rated it really liked it
What if our contemporary moral discourse were a cargo cult in which we picked up fragments of a long lost, once-coherent moral philosophy, and ignorantly constructed a bunch of nonsense that didn’t work and could not work in principle?

After Virtue argues that this indeed is what happened, and this explains why our moral discourse is such a mess.

Why when we argue about moral issues do we make our case in a form that resembles rational argument, but the effect seems to be only like imperative stat
Jan Rice
I began this book around September 2015, then reviewed the first half in January of 2016 in advance of a hiatus in reading. I resumed in April, but this time I wasn't alone. It had looked like such fun that Dennis wanted to study with me.

First we backtracked and did some review, and then we forged ahead, reading out loud, mostly me. I read over half the book out loud. And then I took notes on every paragraph, since that's the only way I could digest it. My notes constitute, in effect, a condens
Sep 18, 2015 rated it liked it
Intertextuality Update: fairly obvious, in the course of my current re-read of A Confederacy of Dunces, that author here has simply taken protagonist there and channeled him as non-satirical: MacIntyre is Ignatius Reilly. The worm is the spice!

A fairly conservative endeavor overall. Outworks note, for instance, that “Marxism’s moral defects and failures arise from the extent to which it, like liberal individualism, embodies the ethos of the distinctively modern and modernizing world” (xviii). M
Sep 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
A big reason that modern debates over moral issues seem completely interminable and unresolvable is that we no longer have a shared idea of what the goal of a society should be, nor, correspondingly, any idea of the ultimate purpose of an individual living in a society. In this book, Alistair Macintyre compellingly argues that our contemporary moral reasoning is nothing more than the detritus of a previous moral order that made clear sense: the Aristotelian tradition. Enlightenment philosophers ...more
Charles Haywood
Feb 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The poor Enlightenment. Trapped by its inherent contradictions, we in the West find ourselves locked into playing out the game set by it, struggling to make the best of a bad hand until inevitably forced to fold, though the precise manner and consequences of that folding are yet to be determined. The Enlightenment’s defenders, cut-rate Rolands all, including Steven Pinker and many other Pollyanas across the political spectrum, try their hardest, even though it is now pretty obvious that the Enli ...more
Nov 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I've often wondered why I cannot seem to construct a coherent, rational argument with respect to any of the hot-button social issues of our day. MacIntyre says I'm not alone; both liberals and conservatives today are trapped in a radically individualist philosophical liberalism that cannot be defended despite "three centuries of moral philosophy and one of sociology." His counter-proposal is that the "Aristotelian tradition can be restated in a way that restores intelligibility and rationality t ...more
Jan 09, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
wrong, and in many ways absurd, but absolutely delightful. This book made me want to do ethics, when I was just a wee lass studying Medieval metaphysics and logic.
Nov 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
After Virtue is probably one of the most important books I've ever read. Accordingly, it took me nearly five months of steady reading to really appreciate its content, including extended breaks to read the authors that MacIntyre drew inspiration from. In particular, a friend recommended that I pause After Virtue in order to refresh myself on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics (which forms the basis for MacIntyre's exploration) and read Anscombe's Modern Moral Philosophy (which heavily informed his h ...more
Apr 09, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Though I didn't necessarily agree with all the author's ultimate conclusions, I found After Virtue to be a cogent and well-argued work on moral theory. One of MacIntyre's claims against "emotivism" that he finds to be pervading societal discourse on morality--that is, morals and "virtues" reduced to mere claims of preference--is that logical reasoning is actually being done in support of those chosen moral standpoints. He roots many of the virtues we now intuitively view as "good" (i.e., courage ...more
Gary  Beauregard Bottomley
All value systems after Aristotle have been wrong except when they have been slightly modified through a lens of Christian thinkers like Aquinas or Jane Austin at least that’s what the author is going to argue in this book.

The Enlightenment’s valuing of the individual and the rejection of authority went too far, he’ll say. The truth is out there as for living a virtuous life and we just need to re-channel Aristotle and reconnect with our community, character and social standards, he will say.

Jonathan Karmel
Mar 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
According to this book, after the Enlightenment, moral philosophers rejected Aristotle’s teleological philosophy of ethics in search of a rational basis for morality. But the effort to find a universal rationality for morality failed. Therefore, we are just left with Emotivism, the belief that moral arguments are ultimately just based on the subjective, personal feelings of individuals. The author believes that we should return to the teleological morality of Aristotle.

What is teleological moral
May 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ethics, philosophy
In my twenties I read a lot of books. I was in seminary, reading assigned readings, and then I was starting out in ministry reading books on leadership and spiritual formation and the like. Over time I began to notice some authors were referenced in numerous books I was reading. Now in my thirties, it seems as if I am reading the authors who were often being quoted in books I read in my twenties. Alasdair Macintyre is one such author. I’d heard of his books numerous times but it wasn’t until a f ...more
Scriptor Ignotus
Jun 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: philosophy
Never before have I read a work of nonfiction which argues that we are already living in a post-apocalyptic dystopia, but according to MacIntyre, we are indeed living through a new Dark Age - at least as far as morality is concerned.

MacIntyre lays out a famous hypothetical at the beginning of this work which imagines a world in which science has become demonized and banished from the intellectual scene, only to have scholars several generations later uncover fragments of the lost scientific age
No rating. I got 45% of the way through this audiobook, and I'm sadly putting it on my DNF shelf. I must admit I only understood about 40% of what MacIntyre was saying, and no matter how many times I look at it again, I've no desire to pick it back up. Life is too short to read books you don't enjoy. I may pick it up again someday. ...more
Michael Contreras
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
What did I come away with after reading this book? Western civilization's thought and way of life, from the Greeks to our current political and moral/religious fragmentation, is told through a reverse chronology as the author lights the way underground in the intellectual/cultural bedrock of our modern world, exposing crucial collapsed passageways (Aristotle's theory of the virtues), dangerous minerals that seeped into our marketplace (the Enlightenment break from tradition), and chambers of lon ...more
Gregory Weber
MacIntyre begins with the observation that our modern moral arguments — on issues such as just war and peace, abortion, and economic opportunity — seem interminable and irresolvable, because neither side can accept the assumptions of the other, and so we loudly insist on our own assumptions as though emotivism (or as I would prefer to say, relativism) is true. The best of the emotivists, such as Hare, allowed that we could argue (reason) from a set of moral principles, but they had nothing to sa ...more
Jun 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
Our modern debates on moral subjects are not rationally resolvable -- think of the abortion debate; such debates arise from a difference in the prioritization of values, which cannot be 'weighed' against each other. It seems that our differences in fundamental values are simply result of enculturation; and this seems to quickly lead to total relativism regarding morality. MacIntyre shows that this is not so; such relativism is not the only option once we acknowledge that moral systems are always ...more
Brett Williams
Nov 17, 2019 rated it really liked it
MacIntyre’s landmark book has been so often referenced and complained about in so many other books I’ve read, I had to try it. After Virtue is galactic in its span of big ideas, with such complex sentences I had to rewrite them myself, hence the complaints. Prefiguring Deneen’s Why Liberalism Failed by almost 40 years, MacIntyre plies some of the same waters underlying our Culture Wars. But MacIntyre’s more interested in the philosophical roots and branches of Western morality and how it got cut ...more
What is there left to say (lots) that MacIntyre hasn't already written (poorly)? This is one of those books that I would label eminently worthwhile—and now I'm glad to put it far off to some side or another. But my thanks to a swell reading group that required me to get further than, like, chapter 3.
James Hazeldean
Jan 03, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This book changed my entire life. The incoherence of modernity is laid bare and a return to a prior tradition is shown to not just be useful, but an intellectual and moral necessity.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Tried to start this book 4 years ago but gave up as it seemed to tedious for me. But after two years of Drumpf I see now that we really are living in a world ""after virtue""—this book is prophetic !! ...more
Gregg Wingo
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Alasdair MacIntyre is a confirmed moralist and his work, “After Virtue”, is an analysis of the defeat of moral and civic virtue by the Enlightenment. MacIntyre exhibits such a grasp of lingual analysis, use of historical techniques, and philosophical critique that one wishes he was working on the present crisis of the Postmodernist condition rather complaining about the failure of Modernism. While a return to classical and Christian virtues is possible, it is also highly improbable that such a h ...more
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a really fun book to read, if only because it challenges what still seems to be orthodoxy within most academic institutions.

Recommending it to a friend I said that one of it's appeals, and downsides, is how accessible it is. Meaning that the writing is - in a sense - both shallow and condensed, because it presents a very sprawling and complex issue in an interdisciplinary fashion (or rather, utterly negating the separation academic institutions have forced on disciplines such as histor
Mike Horne
Jan 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Pick a virtue you would want to have in spades. Pick a virtue you want others around you to have. Are they the same? Why or why not?

From the Iliad (or Njal’s Saga)
Allegiance to Kin


Aristotle’s (from the Nichomachean Ethics
(Nameless concerned with ambition)
(Nameless concerned with gentleness)

Seven Heavenly Virtues
Bob Nichols
Aug 09, 2009 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
MacIntyre provides a strong critique of contemporary moral theory, dominated as it is by varieties of emotivism: There are no objective standards; moral values are subjective and relative. This is the first half of his book. As much as MacIntyre admires Aristotle, he cannot go back to Aristotle's "metaphysical biology." Aristotle's "classical" perspective was replaced with a variety of rationalistic moral theories (e.g., Kant) that Nietzsche accurately and powerfully in MacIntyre's view said wer ...more
Hmmm. I wanted to get a handle on what virtue ethics was all about, and several academic philosopher friends highly recommended After Virtue as a foundational text. But, it was a difficult read for me and I got a little frustrated because it was hard to pinpoint why exactly I was struggling to follow MacIntyre a lot of the way. (In theory, I had the right background to read this book, with several years of Greek and Latin, a degree in philosophy, a background in religious studies, and a degree i ...more
Mark Lilla calls this book "catnip for grumpy souls." Read the prologue here, and read a quote from p. 216 (on narrative and mythology; Justin Taylor is writing about N.D. Wilson's fiction) here.

This may be the MacIntyre book where he says that you can't talk about right and wrong without talking about purpose . . . and you can't keep from talking about right and wrong.
Jun 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: philosophy
A sweeping history of ethics in the west along with philosophical argumentation for how to approach moral philosophy today. The book is a whirlwind of analyses and criticisms of various moral concepts and movements. The overall pro-argument is historical, detailed, and subtle. Regardless of one's agreement or disagreement with the author, this book repays many revisits. As any good book of philosophy should do (indeed as *any* good book should do), it makes one really think about concepts and id ...more
Jun 04, 2008 marked it as recommended
Shelves: philosophy
Saw this as a favorite on a friend's bookshelf. It is also on mine--now I have a reason to move it up on my priority list... ...more
Jan 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book got me seriously interested in philosophy. It is everything a book of its kind should be: engaging, convincing, full of urgency.
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Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre is a leading philosopher primarily known for his contribution to moral and political philosophy but known also for his work in history of philosophy and theology. He is the O'Brien Senior Research Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. ...more

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