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

In a world in which every chess grandmaster were motivated only by money and prestige, chess would still possess the features required for practice status, but none of the great chess players would be genuinely engaged in that practice: they would have no reason not to cheat, and no reason not to abandon chess if greater external rewards were available to them elsewhere, and so would miss out on the intrinsic joys of chess as well as the opportunity to cultivate the virtues. This obscuring of internal goods is a danger whenever practices are not adequately safeguarded by institutions. Because it is the nature of institutions to seek external goods, “the ideals and the creativity of the practice are always vulnerable to the acquisitiveness of the institution" (MacIntyre 2007: 194). The upshot of this is that, as Knight put is, from the "perspective of individuals qua practitioners, the causal order constituted by a practice and an institution is in good order insofar as the goods pursued by the institution are deployed to subserve the good internal to the practice” Knight 2008: 319).This aim, despite MacIntyre's opposition to corporate modernity noted at the outset of this paper, is clearly possible for business organizations to achieve. A well-ordered institution in this sense will afford its employees a chance to develop the virtues by sustaining practices, and so excellence in management – management that uses practical wisdom to safeguard a practice - will constitute an excellence in politics. (p.236)


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


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