49 pages 1 hour read

Alasdair MacIntyre

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1981

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Philosophical Background: The Modern Revival of Virtue Ethics

In philosophy, virtue ethics is a school of thought that regards virtue as central to morality. It is often contrasted with consequentialism, which emphasizes the results of moral action, and deontology, which sees the following of moral rules as central (See: Index of Terms). As a tradition in Western philosophy, virtue ethics can be traced back to Plato and Aristotle, who emphasized the character of the moral agent rather than the details of the action. As MacIntyre argues in the book, virtue as a moral concept was eclipsed in the modern period by attempts to explain morality in other terms—including those of feelings, utility, or rights—by means of such philosophies as utilitarianism.

Starting in the mid-20th century, a number of thinkers began to question the dominance of the concepts of rights, duties, and consequences. In her 1958 essay “Modern Moral Philosophy,” the English philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe argued that consequentialism and deontology no longer met present-day needs. She claimed that they were too legalistic and did not take human psychology into account. As a remedy, Anscombe advocated a return to ideas of virtue and character formation, following Aristotle.