MacIntyre on Modernity and How It Has Marginalized the Virtues
The revival of interest in the virtues in moral theory has had its counterpart in political theory: political philosophers have been concerned with the role of the virtues in justifying social, political, and economic arrangements, and have explored the issue of what institutions can provide space for the virtues to flourish. Alasdair MacIntyre After Virtue was a seminal contribution to this debate. MacIntyre not only gave an account of the virtues, but also employed that account to launch an attack on liberalism, by arguing that the institutions it defends undermine rather than foster the virtues. I propose to examine MacIntyre's account, and then to turn to some of the responses it has provoked. I shall argue that MacIntyre makes an important criticism of liberalism which liberals have not yet fully answered, but which also creates problems for his own account.
MacIntyre's account of the virtues is Aristotelian in inspiration, although unlike Aristotle's own account it gives an important role to the concept of a practice. He employs the term 'practice' in a semi-technical way, meaning by it
any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realised 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