For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Practices, governance, and politics: Applying MacIntyre’s ethics to business"

by Sinnicks, Matthew (2014)


This paper argues that attempts to apply Alasdair MacIntyre’s positive moral theory to business ethics are problematic, due to the cognitive closure of MacIntyre’s concept of a practice. I begin by outlining the notion of a practice, before turning to Moore’s attempt to provide a MacIntyrean account of corporate governance. I argue that Moore’s attempt is mismatched with MacIntyre’s account of moral education. Because the notion of practices resists general application I go on to argue that a negative application, which focuses on regulation, is more plausible. Large-scale regulation, usually thought antithetical to MacIntyre’s advocacy of small-scale politics, has the potential to facilitate practice-based work and reveals that MacIntyre’s own work can be used against his pessimism about the modern order. Furthermore, the conception of regulation I defend can show us how management is more amenable to ethical understanding than MacIntyre’s work is often taken to imply.

Key Passage

Practices are not only intrinsically worthwhile, they are also perfective of those who engage in them. Practices then, are the ‘schools’ of the virtues. If MacIntyre is right, then in addition to the inherent dignity of, say, working to support one’s family, work that is practice-based will further contribute both to the good of the agents who partake in it, and to our wider common good, which will be served by activities that are inherently morally educative. ….. For MacIntyre, internal goods are those goods which cannot be achieved in any way other than engaging in the activity in question, and are to be contrasted with external goods, examples of which include power, prestige, and money. These external goods can all be sought and used virtuously, but they are not bases of virtue acquisition, on MacIntyre's view. Given that engaging in practices allows us to acquire the virtues, we do value them partly for this reason, but the notion of internal goods allows us to see that practices are not simply valuable for their consequences but also for their own sake (Knight 2007: 156). To genuinely engage in a practice is to be moved by the standards of excellence distinctive of that practice. Engaging in a practice is an end in itself, and internal goods, in this sense, are “those incommensurably different satisfactions which supervene upon excellence in carrying out the activities which are constitutive of the practice" (D’Andrea 2006: 269). (p.231)


Alasdair Macintyre, Macintyre, Business Ethics, Moral Theory, Practice, Moore, Governance, Politics


On MacIntyre

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