Alasdair MacIntyre

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Virtues are dispositions not only to act in particular ways, but also to feel in particular ways. To act virtuously is not, as Kant was later to think, to act against inclination; it is to act from inclination formed by the cultivation of the virtues.

Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre (born 12 January 1929) is a Scottish-American philosopher primarily known for his contribution to moral and political philosophy but known also for his work in the history of philosophy and theology.


  • My view that tolerance and rationality are intimately connected is not merely an a priori thesis. The transformation of Marxism from a rationally held into an irrationally held body of theory is a transformation which was the result of Marxists cutting themselves off from possibilities of criticism and refutation. The use of state power to defend Marxism as the one set of true beliefs in the Soviet Union produced the atrophy of Marxism and the irrationality of Soviet Marxism. This use of state power was not only repressive in respect of tolerance; it was the instrument of a minority who took up towards the majority an attitude very similar to that which Marcuse advises his minority elite to take up to the majority. The majority was in the Soviet Union the passive object of re-education in the interests of its own liberation. What Marcuse invites us to repeat is part of the experience of Stalinism.
    • Marcuse (1970), pp. 91-92

After Virtue (1981)[edit]

  • According to Aristotle then excellence of character and intelligence cannot be separated. Here Aristotle expresses a view characteristically at odds with that dominant in the modern world. The modern view is expressed at one level in such banalities as ‘Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever’ and at another in such profundities as Kant’s distinction between the good will, the possession of which alone is both necessary and sufficient for moral worth, and what he took to be a quite distinct natural gift, that of knowing how to apply general rules to particular cases, a gift the lack of which is called stupidity. So for Kant one can be both good and stupid; but for Aristotle stupidity of a certain kind precludes goodness.
    • p. 154.
  • There is no way to understand the character of the taboo rules, except as a survival from some previous more elaborate cultural background. We know also and as a consequence that any theory which makes the taboo rules … intelligible just as they are without any reference to their history is necessarily a false theory... why should we think about [the theories of] analytic moral philosophers such as Moore, Ross, Prichard, Stevenson, Hare and the rest in any different way? … Why should we think about our modern use of good, right and obligatory in any different way from that in which we think about late eighteenth-century Polynesian uses of taboo?
    • p. 113.
  • Raymond Aron ascribes to Weber the view that ‘each man’s conscience is irrefutable.’ … while [Weber] holds that an agent may be more or less rational in acting consistently with his values, the choice of any one particular evaluative stance or commitment can be no more rational than any other. All faiths and all evaluations are equally non-rational...
    • p. 26.
  • The manager treats ends as given, as outside his scope; his concern is with technique, with effectiveness … The therapist also treats ends as given, as outside his scope; his concern also is with technique, with effectiveness … Neither manager nor therapist, in their roles as manager and therapist, do or are able to engage in moral debate. They … purport to restrict themselves to the realms in which rational agreement in possible—that is, … to the realm of fact, the realm of means, the realm of measurable effectiveness.
    • p. 30.
  • I have confronted theoretical positions whose protagonists claim that what I take to be historically produced characteristics of what is specifically modern are in fact the timelessly necessary characteristics of all and any moral judgment, of all and any selfhood.
    • p. 35.
  • On Kant’s view it can never follow from the fact that God commands is to do such-and-such that we ought to do such-and-such. In order for us to reach such a conclusion we would also have to know that we always ought to do what God commands. But this last we could not know unless we ourselves possessed a standard of moral judgment independent of God’s commandments by means of which we could judge God’s deeds and words and so find the latter morally worthy of obedience. But clearly if we possess such a standard, the commandments of God will be redundant.
    • p. 45.
  • Consider what kind of authority [can be ascribed to] any principle which it open to us to choose to regard as authoritative or not. I may choose for example to observe a regimen of asceticism and fasting … for reasons of health … What authority such principles possess derives from the reasons for my choice. Insofar as they are good reasons, the principles have corresponding authority; insofar as they are not, the principles are to that same extent deprived of authority. It would follow that a principle for the choice of which no reasons could be given would be a principle devoid of authority. I might indeed adopt such a principle from whim or caprice or from some arbitrary purpose … but if I then chose to abandon the principle whenever it suited me, I would be entirely free to do so.
    • p. 42.
  • Virtues are dispositions not only to act in particular ways, but also to feel in particular ways. To act virtuously is not, as Kant was later to think, to act against inclination; it is to act from inclination formed by the cultivation of the virtues.
    • p. 149.
  • It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead - often not recognizing fully what they were doing - was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point.
    • p. 263
  • 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 dark ages which are already upon us. ... This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been among us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for Godot, but for another—doubtless very different—St. Benedict.
    • p. 263.

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