49 pages 1 hour read

Alasdair MacIntyre

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory

Nonfiction | Book | Adult | Published in 1981

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.


Moral Philosophy Is Socially and Historically Embodied

Throughout the book, MacIntyre stresses that philosophical ideas take concrete shape in society and history, and he argues that the teaching of philosophy should take these contexts into account. In Chapter 2, he complains that in studying moral philosophers, we tend to treat them as if they were “contemporaries both of themselves and of each other,” separating them from the “cultural and social milieus in which they lived and thought” (11). For MacIntyre, this “unhistorical” approach prevents us from understanding our past and, hence, our present situation; it also falsely separates philosophy from culture, making it into a narrow intellectual niche for specialists.

One of the ideas underlying After Virtue is that we need to study the history of our ideas and assumptions—including those having to do with virtue—so that we know where we are and where we are going. MacIntyre implies that a lack of historical awareness has, in part, allowed us to arrive in our current state of moral disorder.

As a related point, MacIntyre laments that in the world of philosophical scholarship, there are too few attempts to tie together “political and moral theorizing” with “political and moral action” (61, emphasis added). Indeed, in the modern university curricula, philosophy and history are strictly separate.