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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

Phronesis is the virtue of those who know how to do what is good, indeed what is best, in particular situations and who are disposed by their character traits to do it. To do what it is good and best to do in a particular situation is to act kata ton orthon logon; it is to judge and to feel and to act in accordance with the mean of virtue and that mean is determined by right reason.How then do we employ right reasoning in doing what is best? There is no set of rules to invoke, nothing therefore that corresponds to Kantian maxims or to the rules of a rule-utilitarian. It is true that on Aristotle’s account there are certain kinds of action that ought never to be performed: acts of homicide, theft, adultery, lying. But to know this is to know only what we are all and always precluded from doing. It is not to answer the question of how it is best for me to act here and now in these particular circumstances. Part of what precludes answering this question by applying a rule or a set of rules is that part of the agent’s task is to select, from a multiplicity of potentially relevant considerations arising out of the agent’s past history, the agent’s relationship to others, and the particularities of the agent’s present situation those that are actually relevant to the agent’s immediate choice of action. And to do this the agent has to be able to draw upon past experience both of what causes what under particular circumstances and of the range of heterogeneous goods, goods as various as those of, for example, courage, justice, glory, pleasure of assorted kinds, wit, and honor, in order to identify what the key differences are between the different courses of action open to her or him. Insofar as appeal to some particular rule is on occasion among the relevant considerations in identifying such differences, the judgment that it is relevant cannot itself be derived from any rule. (p.28)


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


Ethics and Politics, 2 Vols

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