For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Moral education at work: On the scope of MacIntyre’s concept of a practice"

by Sinnicks, Matthew (2019)


This paper seeks to show how MacIntyre’s concept of a practice can survive a series of ‘scope problems’ which threaten to render the concept inapplicable to business ethics. I begin by outlining MacIntyre’s concept of a practice before arguing that, despite an asymmetry between productive and non-productive practices, the elasticity of the concept of a practice allows us to accommodate productive and profitable activities. This elasticity of practices allows us to sidestep the problem of adjudicating between practitioners and non-practitioners as well as the problem of generic activities. I conclude by suggesting that the contemporary tendency to regard work as an object of consumption, rather than undermining MacIntyre’s account of practices, serves to demonstrate the potential breadth of its applicability.

Key Passage

While practices are cognitively closed to some degree, partial engagement means that those who have not mastered a practice can have some understanding of that practice, and write meaningfully about it for an audience of non-masters. Lovers of great paintings who do not themselves paint can be morally educated by their role as practitioners, diners as well as chefs can derive more than aesthetic pleasure from excellent cookery, and “the high school physics teacher and the analyst of the data provided by the Large Hadron Collider are contributing to one and the same enterprise” (MacIntyre 2013, p. 209). Those at the periphery of a practice may not have the intimate experience of the relevant internal goods of master-practitioners. However, they must nevertheless develop certain virtues in order to be able to appreciate the goods internal to that practice. They must still recognise their initial ignorance and need for tuition, etc., and so there remains a possibility that such an engagement will be morally educative. Because engagement can be partial, participation in practices need not be monomaniacal for their ethical effects to be felt.  (p.112)


Macintyre, Ethics, Business Ethics, Morality At Work, Moral Education, Moral Training, Practice


On MacIntyre

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