For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Ethics and Politics: Selected Essays, Volume 2

by MacIntyre, Alasdair (2006)


Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the most creative and important philosophers working today. This volume presents a selection of his classic essays on ethics and politics collected together for the first time, focussing particularly on the themes of moral disagreement, moral dilemmas, and truthfulness and its importance. The essays range widely in scope, from Aristotle and Aquinas and what we need to learn from them, to our contemporary economic and social structures and the threat which they pose to the realization of the forms of ethical life. They will appeal to a wide range of readers across philosophy and especially in moral philosophy, political philosophy, and theology.

Key Passage

For the same reasons we ought also to honour those Christian laity and clergy, a very small minority, who recognized relatively early the systematic injustices generated by nascent and developed commercial and industrial capitalism. Those evils were and are of two kinds. There is on the one hand the large range of particular injustices perpetrated against individuals and groups on this or that particular occasion, where those other individuals who committed the injustices could have done otherwise consistently with conformity to the standards of profit and loss, of commercial and industrial success and failure, enforced by and in a capitalist economic and social order. The immediate cause of such injustices lies in the character of those individuals who commit them. But there is on the other hand a type of injustice which is not the work of a particular person on a particular occasion, but is instead perpetrated institutionally. Such injustice has a number of distinct, if closely related, aspects. There is the source of injustice that confronts every individual or group at the point at which they first encountered the capitalist system, usually by entering the labor market, from the period of nascent capitalism onwards. This source of injustice arises from the gross inequalities in the initial appropriation of capital whatever point in time is taken to be the initial point – an appropriation that was in significant part the outcome of acts of force and fraud by the appropriators. This inequality in the relationship of those with capital to those without it is much more than the inequality between rich and poor that is to be found in the vast majority of societies. In many premodern social orders, just because the poor provide products and services that the rich need, there is still something of a reciprocal relationship between rich and poor, governed by customary standards. And in such societies characteristically the poor will have, and be recognized as entitled to, their own resources: a share of the product of the land they work, customary rights over common land, and the like. But the relationship of capital to labor is such that it inescapably involves an entirely one-sided dependence, except insofar as labor rebels against its conditions of work. The more effective the employment of capital, the more labor becomes no more than an instrument of capital’s purposes, and an instrument whose treatment is a function of the needs of long-term profit maximization and capital formation. (p.146)


Macintyre, Aristotle, Aquinas, Telos, Marxism, Moral Disagreement, Moral Philosophy, Ethics, Free Markets, Enlightenment


Ethics and Politics, 2 Vols

Links to Reference



How to contribute.