, ,

How can I persuade you to read After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre ?

With regards to its significance? Outside philosophy, in truth not very much. On it’s importance – you probably need to read a good dose of ethics to fully appreciate it [for a short introduction read his Short History of Ethics – its gorgeous by the way] . Its lack of technicality? – for the novice it may be a bit guilty of the occasional technicality.

Well how about its insight and argumentation? Well I suppose the best way is to place excerpts and let you see for yourself. This is difficult, his argument is so well integrated – chapter by chapter, paragraph by paragraph – it’s hard to isolate one bit from the other, and admittedly I’m grappling with some of the ideas myself.

Links and Excerpt

So this is what I’ll do; here’s a sympathetic summary of his ideas and his project, and criticisms,  a (longish) chapter summary, and an article from IEP that gives you a more rigorous introduction, and pretty good bio from wikipedia, and some resources to Virtue Ethics, which he had a large part in renewing the studies of [many of the links have good bibliographies for those who want to explore further].

And to give you an idea of his boldness and trenchant quality of his argumentation, as well as taste of the vigour of his writing, enjoy this;

‘The thinkers of the Enlightenment were infant Hempelians. To explain is on their view to invoke a law-like generalization retrospectively; to predict is to invoke a similar generalization prospectively. For this tradition the diminution of predictive failure is the mark of progress in science; and those social scientists who have espoused it must face the fact that if they are right at some point an unpredicted war or revolution will become as disgraceful for a political scientist, an unpredicted change in the rate in inflation as disgraceful for an economist, as would an unpredicted eclipse for an astronomer. That this has not occurred yet has itself to be explained within this tradition and explanations have not been lacking: the human sciences are still young sciences, it is said – but clearly falsely. They are in fact as old as the natural sciences. Or it is said that the natural sciences attract the most able individuals in modern culture and the social sciences only those not able enough to do natural science-this was the claim of H .T. Buckle in the nineteenth century and there is some evidence that it is still partly true. A 1960 study of the I.Q.’s of those completing Ph.D. requirements in various disciplines showed that natural scientists are significantly more intelligent than social scientists (although chemists drag down the natural science averages and economists raise the social science average). But the same reasons that make me reluctant to judge deprived minority children by their I.Q. scores make me equally reluctant to judge my colleagues by them – or myself. Yet perhaps explanations are not needed, for perhaps the failure that the dominant tradition tries to explain is like King Charles II’s dead fish. Charles II once invited the members of the Royal Society to explain to him why a dead fish weighs more than the same fish alive; a number of subtle explanations were offered to him. He then pointed out that it does not.’

After Virtue – Alasdair MacIntyre, 1982.