For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Worlds of practice: MacIntyre's challenge to applied ethics"

by Higgins, C (2010)

Key Passage

There is also a downward dependence across the three levels of valuation. For MacIntyre, individual and communal ethical reflection depend on the existence of practices in three ways. First, communities rely directly on practices such as parenting, teaching, and city planning to pursue their communal goods. Second, these overarching goods are themselves ‘integrative of and partly structured in terms of the goods internal to particular practices, and never to be understood as wholly independent of them’. Third, ‘the work of integrating those [internal] goods into individual and communal lives itself has the structure of a practice’.It is worth elaborating on the second of these points. While it is only in light of our deep traditional commitments that we are able to decide what place the good of a particular practice is to be accorded in our overall conception of the good life, it is practices which generate ‘new ends and new conceptions of ends’. MacIntyre describes practices as ‘precisely those ongoing modes of activity within which new ends emerge, are revised, are lost from sight, are rediscovered . . . while new sets of means have to be devised and redevised accordingly’. Without the original discovery of goods within the many practices, there would be literally nothing for individual and communal ethical reflection to work with. Perhaps even more important is the fact that such reflection relies on the constant rediscovery of these goods in their spark and substance. Ethical ideals that speak to everyone regardless of their location in and across some variety of local practices are likely to be banal. ‘Concepts’, MacIntyre writes, ‘are embodied in and draw their lives from forms of social practice’. Practices feed our moral imagination, giving us new ideas about what is worth striving for and re-embodying, re-vivifying longstanding ideals. In other words, if the upward dependence is driven by a need for coherence in our moral vocabulary, the downward dependence is driven by the constant need for innovation in and reinvigoration of our ethical language. (p.243)


Macintyre. Applied Ethics, Business Ethics, Practice, Worlds Of Practice, Virtue


On MacIntyre

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