For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work


by Knight, Kelvin (2008)


Parts 1 to 3 of this paper explore the theoretical rationale and ethical significance of Alasdair MacIntyre’s twin distinctions between goods internal and external to practices and between goods of excellence and of effectiveness. Parts 4 and 5 then relate this analysis to his critique of contemporary institutions, compartmentalisation and management. My argument is that these concepts express a teleological theory of why and how goods should be ordered which, in refusing to identify practical rationality with institutional actuality and instead differentiating between rival traditions, progresses beyond the theories of Aristotle and of other, past and present anglophone Aristotelians.

Key Passage

MacIntyre’s metaphysics of good is more modest than that of Hegel but more ambitious than that of Whiting. Goods are intentional objects, and goods internal to practices are non-aggregatively common goods that have an objectivity for individual actors. One cannot do more than idealise the common good as a universal, but one can act in pursuit of these more particular goods. Through participation in practices, especially at the local level, one learns to emulate standards of excellence, including skills internal to practices but also moral virtues internal to one’s character. In this way, goods of effectiveness subserve goods internal to social practices in a way that actualises both those shared goods and goods of excellence of individual human beings. What renders this rational ideal utopian is the actual domination of practices by institutions and of practitioners by managers. (p.122)


Alasdair Macintyre, Macintyre, Aritotle, Goods, Practices, Practical Rationality


On MacIntyre

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