For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"On the Implications of the Practice–Institution Distinction: Macintyre and the Application of Modern Virtue Ethics to Business"

by Moore, Geoff (2002)


After exploring MacIntyre’s (1985) practice—institution distinction, the article demonstrates its applicability to business-as-practice and to corporations as institutions. It then considers the implications of MacIntyre’s schema to ethical schizophrenia, to the claim that the market is a source of the virtues and to the opposite claim that capitalism corrodes character. A fully worked out modern virtue ethics, based on MacIntyre’s work, is then established and the claim is made and substantiated that such an understanding of MacIntrye’s work revitalises it and makes it directly applicable to business and to corporations.

Key Passage

...the corporation must continually be aware that it is founded on and has as its most important function, the sustenance of the practice. This is simply because, without the practice, the institution dies. Thus a retailing organisation that is so focused on external goods, such as profit and shareholder value, that it fails to nurture the practice it sustains—the specific business practice of retailing—will eventually find itself without the skills and resources it requires to sustain the practice. It will, in effect, kill itself from the inside. But interestingly, the initial responsibility for ensuring that the corporation remains focused on the practice lies with the practice itself. As MacIntyre points out, the essential feature of the virtues is clear: “without them, without justice, courage and truthfulness, practices could not resist the corrupting power of institutions”. So within those who engage directly in the practice there needs to be the commitment to exercise the virtues not only in pursuit of the internal goods of the practice that benefits them as individuals directly, but also against the corporation when it becomes, as it inevitably will at various times, too focused on external goods. (p.28)


Macintyre, Virtue, Business Ethics, Practice, Institution, Capitalism, Modern Virtue Ethics


On MacIntyre

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