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

The first principles, the fundamental precepts, of the natural law, on Aquinas’s view, all give expression to the first principle of practical reason: that good is to be done and pursued and evil is to avoided. The goods that we as human beings have it in us to pursue are of three kinds: the good of our physical nature, the good, that is, of preserving our lives and health from those dangers that threaten our continuing existence; the goods that belong to our animal nature, including the good of sexuality and the goods of educating and caring for our children; and the goods that belong to our nature as rational animals, the goods of knowledge, both of nature and of God, and the goods of a social life informed by the precepts of reason.There are therefore several distinct precepts of the natural law, each a precept of reason directed to our common good that enjoins the achievement of one or more of these shared human goods or forbids what endangers that achievement. Notable examples are: never take an innocent life or inflict gratuitous harm; respect the property of others; shun ignorance and cultivate understanding; do not lie. To say that they are precepts of reason is to say that to violate them knowingly would commit me to asserting “It is good and best for me here and now to act in such and such a way; but I shall act otherwise.” What my actions express, if I knowingly violate the precepts of the natural law, is an incoherence that parallels the incoherence of someone who asserts “It is the case that this is how things are; but I shall believe otherwise.” To say of these precepts that they are directed to the common good is to say that the goods that they enjoin are goods that are indeed goods for each of us, qua member of this family or that household, qua participant in the life of the particular workplace or that particular political community. And they are therefore goods that we can achieve only in the company of a variety of others, including not only those others with whom we share the life of a family and household or the life of a workplace or a political community, but also strangers with whom we interact in less structured ways.  (p.64)


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


Ethics and Politics, 2 Vols

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