For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Dependent rational animals: Why human beings need the virtues

by MacIntyre, A C (1999)


According to the author of" After Virtue," to flourish, humans need to develop virtues of independent thought and acknowledged social dependence. This book presents the moral philosopher's comparison of humans to other animals and his exploration of the impact of these virtues. Although he is most widely known for his book "After Virtue" (1981), with its critique of reason and ethics, Alasdair MacIntyre writes in other areas of philosophy as well, including philosophical psychology, political theory, and philosophy of religion. Born in Scotland, he was educated at Manchester, London, and Oxford universities. In 1969, he went to the United States where he has taught at Brandeis, Boston, and Vanderbilt universities. Since 1988, when he also delivered the Gifford lectures, MacIntyre has taught at the University of Notre Dame. "After Virtue" is one of the most widely discussed of all recent books on moral philosophy. It is the culmination of MacIntyre's deep engagement with the history of ethics. In it he argues that modern ethical theory, as it has developed since the seventeenth century, has been exposed by Friedrich Nietzsche as conceptually bankrupt. To find an alternative, he looks to ancient Greece and especially to Aristotle's concept of virtue. Although his critics consider this alternative to be something of an impossible dream, MacIntyre argues that it is central to a recovery of ethics.

Key Passage

It is then the characteristic human condition to find ourselves occupying some position, and usually a series of positions over time, within some set of ongoing institutionalized relationships, relationships of family and household, of school or apprenticeship in some practice, of local community, and of the larger society, which present themselves under two aspects. Insofar as they are relationships of the kind of giving and receiving that I have described they are those relationships without which I and others could not become able to achieve and be sustained in achieving our goods. They are constitutive means to the end of our flourishing. But they will also generally be relationships that give expression to established hierarchies of power and of the uses of power, hierarchies and uses that, as instruments of domination and deprivation, often frustrate us in our movement towards our goods. (p.60)


Virtue, Macintyre, Animals, Society, Social Dependence, Virtues, Reason


Dependent Rational Animals

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