Alan Turner, Rescue

Alasdair MacIntyre: After Virtue

Instructor: Michael Stevenson
This is an online course (Eastern Time)

Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue was intended as a wake-up call: Our moral discourse and practices are deeply in crisis—disordered, obscure, and ultimately incoherent. For MacIntyre, the various philosophical attempts during and after the European Enlightenment to provide morality with wholly rational justifications have been an abject failure and catastrophe. All we are left with is a pervasive emotivism: the resignation that moral claims are no more than subjective and idiosyncratic expressions of personal, non-rational preference. What’s needed, so MacIntyre claims, is a return to Aristotelianism and the teleological features of our moral experience. That is, we must ground morality in a concrete conception of the true purpose of a human life—a purpose that is not individualistic, but rooted in the social contexts of community and tradition. A rejection of liberal individualism, After Virtue charts a communalist vision of morality that charts interesting paths not only in philosophy, but also political theory. “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages that are already upon us.” How can we understand MacIntyre’s challenge to the entire edifice of Enlightenment moral philosophy and the philosophical and political implications of his Aristotelian alternative?

In this course, we’ll explore and evaluate MacIntyre’s magisterial argument through a close reading of After Virtue in its entirety. We’ll examine and assess his sometimes breathtakingly allusive discussions of Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Kant, Hume, John Rawls and Robert Nozick.  What are the political implications of MacIntyre’s view, and how in particular does it relate to the Marxism to which MacIntyre was sometimes attached? With its Aristotelian focus on “man-as-he-is”, what resources does it offer for attempts to adopt a critical attitude to the societies and traditions that ground our moral practices? What role does this text play in the revival of so-called “virtue ethics” in recent decades, along with the associated notion of “analytical Thomism”? What does MacIntyre mean when he ends the book with the cryptic and intriguing remark that, “What we are waiting for now is not a Godot but for a new—doubtless very different—St. Benedict?” 

Course Schedule

Tuesday, 6:30-9:30pm ET
July 09 — July 30, 2024
4 weeks


Registration Open