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Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity: An Essay on Desire, Practical Reasoning, and Narrative

by MacIntyre, Alasdair (2016)


Alasdair MacIntyre explores some central philosophical, political and moral claims of modernity and argues that a proper understanding of human goods requires a rejection of these claims. In a wide-ranging discussion, he considers how normative and evaluative judgments are to be understood, how desire and practical reasoning are to be characterized, what it is to have adequate self-knowledge, and what part narrative plays in our understanding of human lives. He asks, further, what it would be to understand the modern condition from a neo-Aristotelian or Thomistic perspective, and argues that Thomistic Aristotelianism, informed by Marx's insights, provides us with resources for constructing a contemporary politics and ethics which both enable and require us to act against modernity from within modernity. This rich and important book builds on and advances MacIntyre's thinking in ethics and moral philosophy, and will be of great interest to readers in both fields.

Key Passage

A shared assumption of almost all contemporary moral theorizing is that the judgments made by moral agents are singular first person judgments, answers to the question ‘How am I to act?’ Suppose, however, that, contrary to this common view, it is, as I suggested in presenting the NeoAristotelian account in section 1.8 of Chapter 1, a prerequisite for acting as an adequately reflective agent that one should recognize that in many situations the question to be answered is not ‘How am I to act?’, but ‘How are we to act?’, just because what is at stake is a common good and not just the goods of individuals. Suppose further both that those common goods are the goods of family or workplace or political society, goods to be achieved and enjoyed not by individuals qua individuals, but by individuals qua family member or qua fellow worker or qua citizen and that individuals cannot achieve their own individual goods except through achieving such common goods. Were this to be the case, moral agents could not act as such without also acting as political and social agents and the abstraction of ‘the moral’ from ‘the political’ and ‘the social’ would be a misleading and distorting abstraction, one whose outcome might be that moral theorists would be blind to important aspects of the life of practice, indeed to aspects of their own moral lives. (p.72)


Desire, Practical Reason, Aristotle, Neo-Aristotelian, Marx, Aquinas, Politics, Ethics, Self-Knowledge Moral Philosophy


Ethics in the Conflicts of Modernity

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