Maclntyre's first book, written when he was 23, tried to rescue both a purified Christianity and a purified Marxism for the modern world. He argued that, properly understood, Marxism, as the historical successor to Christianity, largely shares both its content and its function as an interpretation of human existence.
In 1955 New Essays in Philosophical Theology, which Maclntyre edited with Antony Flew, and which gathered together a number of essays applying the methods of conceptual analysis to specific religious issues, reinaugurated the serious study of the philosophy of religion, a subject which had been moribund in the analytical tradition for some decades.
Since the mid-1960s most of Maclntyre's work has been concerned with ethical and social theory.
In A Short History of Ethics (1966) he attacked the notion that moral concepts are a timeless, unchanging, determinate set. He held rather that they are embodied in, and partially constitutive of, forms of social life, and so change as social life changes. This does not mean merely that different societies have held different things to be right or good but, much more radically, that what it means to describe something as right or good may itself change; indeed, the very idea of morality is subject to change. So, to take one central case, the peculiarly moral, Kantian sense of 'ought' that characterizes much modern ethical thought-an 'ought' that expresses obligations binding on all rational beings as such, but unable to be derived logically from any factual statements-is completely absent in, for instance, the Homeric period. It arose, according to Maclntyre, in the modern period when the social roles and ideals that had originally provided a backing for it gradually dropped away. And this development explains the peculiarly intractable nature of moral disputes in the modern world, which is not a feature of all possible moralities but of one with a certain history.
Maclntyre developed in detail this diagnosis of the problems of modern morality in After Virtue (1981). Its central claim is that modern morality is in deep disarray. It is, he suggested, no more than the fragments of a conceptual scheme which has lost the context which once made it intelligible, and to which have been added, as a way of attempting to cope with the breakdown of the traditional moral philosophy, such moral fictions as natural rights and utility. The attempt is a failure since, for one thing, there are no such things as natural rights or utility; and, for another, this yoking of incompatible moral traditions has largely made of morality just what Nietzsche and various forms of emotivism have claimed that it is: the mere expression of subjective preference with no objective criteria for deciding between them.
If morality is again to make sense for us, we must, according to Maclntyre, recapture some-thing of the Aristotelian tradition of moral philosophy. Further, given the nature of our society and its ruling liberal individualist ideas, this will not be easy. It would entail recapturing a number of ideas that are now lost. The concept of what Maclntyre calls a practice-a cooperative enterprise in pursuit of goods internal to that enterprise-would be essential; this, outside of the area of games, and particularly in our participation in political life, we have all but lost. So too we should need to recapture the notion of a whole human life, an idea lost to us now because bureaucratic modernity has seen to it that our lives have no unity. And, third, we should need to