Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

After Virtue is an extended philosophical argument, informed by linguistic, historical, and sociological analyses, that seeks to explain the continuing irresolution of modern moral disputes; to critique the modern bureaucratic state and the claims of management science; and to provide an alternative to emotivist ethics in the form of a refashioned conception of the Aristotelian idea of virtue.

Written both for the practicing philosopher and for the interested layperson, the book arose from author Alasdair MacIntyre’s growing conviction that while every system of morality originates from, and is embedded in, a particular historical stream, it is nevertheless possible to offer a sound defense of one system over other competitors—without abstracting each system from its context and comparing abstractions. That, says MacIntyre, is a “barren” enterprise; for it is only within social contexts that ethical systems have meaning, and it is only through a historical and sociological analysis of each moral tradition that one, the Aristotelian tradition, can be vindicated.

The modern world, or at least the industrialized West, has, in terms of moral discourse, descended into a new Dark Age. Moral judgments lack content and are merely expressive of how one feels about a matter; this kind of ethical emotivism is an inheritance from the failure of the eighteenth century Enlightenment to provide an objective basis for moral judgments. In...

(The entire section is 522 words.)