Alasdair MacIntyre

Infobox Philosopher

region = Western Philosophy
era =
color = #B0C4DE
image_size =
image_caption =
name = Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre
birth = birth date and age|1929|01|12
death =
school_tradition = Analytic Philosophy
main_interests = Ethics, Metaethics, History of Ethics, Political philosophy
notable_ideas = Revival of Virtue ethics
influences = Aristotle·Augustine·Aquinas·Kierkegaard·Marx·Nietzsche·John Rawls·G. E. M. Anscombe·
influenced =

Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre (born January 12, 1929 in Glasgow, Scotland) is a 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.


MacIntyre was educated at the institution now known as Queen Mary, University of London, and has a Master of Arts from the University of Manchester and the University of Oxford. He began his lecturing career in 1951 at Manchester University. He taught at the University of Leeds, the University of Essex and the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom, before moving to the USA in around 1969. MacIntyre has been something of an intellectual nomad, having taught at many universities in the US. He has held the following positions:
*Professor of History and Ideas, Brandeis University (1969 or 1970),
*Dean of the College of Arts and Professor of Philosophy, Boston University, (1972)
*Henry Luce Professor, Wellesley College (1980),
*W. Alton Jones Professor, Vanderbilt University (1982),
*Professor of Philosophy, University of Notre Dame (1985),
*Professor of Philosophy, Vanderbilt University (1985),
*Visiting scholar, Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University (1988).
*McMahon-Hank Professor of Philosophy, Notre Dame (1989), and
*Arts & Sciences Professor of Philosophy, Duke University (1995–1997).He has also been a visiting professor at Princeton University, and is a former president of the American Philosophical Association.

From 2000 to the present, he has been the Rev. John A. O'Brien Senior Research Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Permanent Senior Research Fellow in the Center for Ethics and Culture at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana USA. He is also Professor Emerit and Emeritus at Duke University. In April 2005 he was elected to the American Philosophical Society.

He has been married 3 times. From 1953 to 1963 he was married to Ann Peri, with whom he had two daughters. From 1963 to 1977 he was married to Susan Willans, with whom he had a son and daughter. Since 1977 he has been married to philosopher Lynn Joy, who is also on the Philosophy faculty at Notre Dame.

Philosophical method

Whereas many contemporary philosophers advance philosophical positions by focusing on the logical, analytical or scientific underpinnings, MacIntyre uses dialectic in order to present a historical narration of the development of ethics in order to illuminate the modern problem of "incommensurable" moral notions used independently of their original conceptual frameworks. He does not attempt to resolve the resulting conceptual conflicts. Instead, he argues for one moral tradition against its rivals. This tradition, he proposes, presents 'the best theory so far', both of how things are and of how we ought to act. It is the tradition of Thomistic Aristotelianism.

Virtue ethics

MacIntyre is a key figure in the recent surge of interest in virtue ethics, which identifies the central question of morality as having to do with the habits, virtues and knowledges concerning how one should live one's life. This approach has a greater scope than others. MacIntyre and his supporters focus on moral problems having to do with how to make the most of an entire human life, whereas most others often focus on such specific ethical debates such as abortion, homosexual rights, etc. MacIntyre is not silent on such matters, but he approaches them from a wider context and less rule-based standard.

This is an approach to moral philosophy that demonstrates how good judgment of individuals emanates from the development of good character. The underlying standards are grasped not through what a virtuous person "decides" but rather through the virtues of life that enable moral action to be both directed to its correct ends and consonant within its moral rationality. For example, it's impractical to say that wine X is the best wine on earth but there is wisdom in saying that person W is well known and widely respected for his/her views on wine and if he/she says wines 1, 2, and 3 are fantastic, chances are great that they are. This is a simplistic example to highlight only that judgements of virtuous persons in determining what is good or evil, right or wrong are more important than formal rules. In elaborating this approach, MacIntyre understands himself to be reworking the Aristotelian idea of an ethical teleology.

MacIntyre emphasises the importance of moral goods defined in respect to a community of virtuous persons engaged in a 'practice' - which he calls 'internal goods' or 'goods of excellence' - rather than focusing on practice-independent phenomena such as the obligation of a moral agent (deontological ethics) or on the consequences of a particular moral act (utilitarianism). Virtue ethics in European/American academia is associated with pre-modern philosophers (e.g. Plato, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas), but also fully engaged with other forms of modern ethical systems (e.g. Kantian deontology). MacIntyre has argued that Aquinas' synthesis of Augustinianism with Aristotelianism is more insightful than modern moral theories by focusing upon the telos ('end', or completion) of a social practice and of a human life, within the context of which the morality of acts may be evaluated.

After all of this has been said, it should be emphasized that MacIntyre intends the idea of virtue to supplement rather than replace moral rules. Indeed, he describes certain moral rules as 'exceptionless' or unconditional.


Politically, MacIntyre's ethics informs a defence of the goods of excellence internal to practices against the pursuit of 'external goods', such as money, power and status, that are characteristically pursued by rule-based state and corporate institutions. He has been described as a 'revolutionary Aristotelian'. This is because of his attempt to combine insights from Marx with those of Aquinas and Aristotle. Marxism gives us no moral theory (historically, however, it has adopted various forms of utilitarianism) but it does give us an economic and political theory that has always informed MacIntyre's critique of liberalism, which Marxists regard as capitalist ideology. MacIntyre replaces the language of ideology with that of tradition. Like most Western Marxists, he regards ideas not as simple effects of productive relations but, rather, as affecting how people act. He argues that liberalism, like postmodernist consumerism, not only justifies capitalism but really sustains and informs it over the long term.


MacIntyre converted to Roman Catholicism in the early 1980s, and "now does his work against the background of what he calls an Augustinian Thomist approach to moral philosophy." Solomon, David. "Lecture 9: After Virtue", International Catholic University: Twentieth-century ethics [] ] In his book "Whose Justice, Which Rationality?" there is a section towards the end that reads autobiographical, explaining how one is chosen by a tradition and may be reflective of his own conversion to Roman Catholicism. [See pages 393-395 of "Whose Justice, Which Rationality?" 1988.]

See also


elected works

*1953. "Marxism: An Interpretation". London: SCM Press, 1953.
*1955 (edited with Antony Flew). "New Essays in Philosophical Theology". London: SCM Press.
*2004 (1958). "The Unconscious: A Conceptual Analysis", London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
*1959. "Difficulties in Christian Belief". London: SCM Press.
*1965. "Hume's Ethical Writings". (ed.) New York: Collier.
*1998 (1966). "A Short History of Ethics", 2nd ed. New York: Macmillan.
*1967. "Secularization and Moral Change". The Riddell Memorial Lectures. Oxford University Press.
*1969 (with Paul Ricoeur). "The Religious Significance of Atheism". New York: Columbia University Press.
*1970. "Herbert Marcuse: An Exposition and a Polemic". New York: The Viking Press.
*1971. "Against the Self-Images of the Age: Essays on Ideology and Philosophy". London: Duckworth.
*2007 (1981). "After Virtue", 3rd ed. University of Notre Dame Press.
*1988. "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?". University of Notre Dame Press.
*1990. "Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry". The Gifford Lectures. University of Notre Dame Press.
*1995. "Marxism and Christianity", London: Duckworth, 2nd ed.
*1998. " [ The MacIntyre Reader.] " Knight, Kelvin, ed. University of Notre Dame Press.
*1999. "Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues". Chicago: Open Court.
*2005. "Edith Stein: A Philosophical Prologue, 1913-1922". Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
*2006. "The Tasks of Philosophy: Selected Essays, Volume 1". Cambridge University Press.
*2006. "Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays, Volume 2". Cambridge University Press.
*2008 (Blackledge, P. & Davidson, N., eds.), "Alasdair MacIntyre's Early Marxist Writings: Essays and Articles 1953-1974", Leiden: Brill.

*"The End of Education: The Fragmentation of the American University," "Commonweal", October 20, 2006 / Volume CXXXIII, Number 18.

econdary literature

* Horton, John, and Susan Mendus (eds.), "After MacIntyre: Critical Perspectives on the Work of Alasdair MacIntyre", Cambridge: Polity Press, 1994.
* Knight, Kelvin, "Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre", Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007.
* Knight, Kelvin, and Paul Blackledge (eds.), "Revolutionary Aristotelianism: Ethics, Resistance and Utopia", Stuttgart: Lucius & Lucius, 2008.
* Lutz, Christopher Stephen, "Tradition in the Ethics of Alasdair MacIntyre: Relativism, Thomism, and Philosophy", Lanham, MA: Rowman and Littlefield, 2004.
* Murphy, Mark C. (ed.), "Alasdair MacIntyre", Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
* Perreau-Saussine, Emile [] : "Alasdair MacIntyre: une biographie intellectuelle", Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2005.


External links

* [ Excerpt] from "The Tasks of Philosophy: Selected Essays Vol. I".
* [ Excerpt] from "Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays Vol. II".
*Bibliographies by:
** [ Scott Moore,] Baylor University.
** [ William Hughes,] University of Guelph.
*Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy: " [ Political Philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre] " -- by Edward Clayton.
* [ International Society for MacIntyrean Philosophy.]
*Cowling, Maurice (1994) " [ Alasdair MacIntyre, Religion & the University,] " "The New Criterion" 12:6.
*Oakes, Edward T. (1996) [ The Achievement of Alasdair McIntyre,] " "First Things" 65:22-26.

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