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

In addition to excellences of character and the good of a biographical genre, MacIntyre occasionally evokes a third sub-type of goods internal to practices located in practitioners. When MacIntyre discusses the goods internal to chess, for example, he speaks of ‘the achievement of a certain highly particular kind of analytic skill, strategic imagination, and competitive intensity’. While the first two items in MacIntyre’s list probably fall into the category of excellences of character, the third points toward what I will call a practice’s ‘moral phenomenology’. Just as Thomas Nagel famously asked of bats, we can ask, What is it like to be a cellist (a chef, a chemist, a character actor)? What is it like for the cellist to be a cellist? Or we could borrow from Hans-Georg Gadamer’s theory of play to help us capture this idea. ‘Every game’, Gadamer says, ‘has its own proper spirit’ (p. 107). In order to experience its special form of freedom—shall I dribble around the defender, lay the ball back to my trailing midfielder, chip the ball into the box?—one must subordinate one’s purposes to the purposes of the game and accept its boundaries and rules. Thus, each sphere of play, Gadamer concludes, demands and offers its players ‘one kind of comportment . . . among others’ (ibid.). Internal to practices are distinctive modes of experience, ways of being, in which practitioners deem it good to participate. Such moral phenomenologies are another aspect of what makes practices a ‘rewarding reality’ for their practitioners.I am not sure MacIntyre would approve of this way of putting things. He might insist that there are only two things here, the achievement of excellence, including the chess player being able to be intense to the right degree and in the right way, and the pleasure which supervenes upon such achievements. In my view, this leaves the concept of pleasure doing too much work. MacIntyre himself acknowledges that it is not pleasure in general one experiences when one makes something excellent or reveals an excellent character but a specific ‘kind of enjoyment that supervenes upon such excellence’. What I am calling moral phenomenology is both more and less than pleasure. It is more than pleasure in that it is participation in a particular state of being that one deems worthwhile. It is less than pleasure because what I am calling moral phenomenology may very well be pleasurable, painful, both or neither.  (p.248)


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


On MacIntyre

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