Virtue Ethics – Alisdair MacIntyre (Part 1)

Alisdair MacIntyre is an esteemed philosopher and professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame.  He is one of the leaders of the virtue ethics movement whose aim is to reintroduce virtue and moral character back into the means for achieving happiness.

MacIntyre wrote an influential book, After Virtue, which explains the importance of virtue ethics in today’s world.  The book is informative and creative but, I must admit, very difficult to read.  Basically, MacIntyre makes the case that Aristotle and St. Aquinas were correct in their philosophies.  MacIntyre claims, like Aristotle, St. Aquinas (and the positive psychologists), that we are all motivated to seek happiness (or the actualization of our potential) and that the virtues are the best means to find the happiness that we all seek.  He claims that those individuals who live virtuous lives are the ones most likely to find happiness.

He proposes that the best way to lead a virtuous life is to be a member in a small community, much as existed in the Medieval Ages.  The members of these small communities would be motivated to act virtuously with one another, leading to the happiness of everyone.

This also sounds very reasonable, but virtue ethics has drawn four main criticisms.  The four are: 1) it is a way of life that is self-centered, 2) it is a way of life lacking any guidance as to appropriate actions to reach happiness, 3) it is a way of life based on luck of one’s circumstances in life, and 4) it is unreasonable to suggest that in today’s world people should live in small communities as the means of achieving happiness.

In my next post, I would like to address these four criticisms.

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