Analyse & Kritik

Journal of Philosophy and Social Theory

Revolutionary Aristotelianism: Ethics,Resistance and Utopia

2008 (30) Issue 1
Guest-Editors: Kelvin Knight / Paul Blackledge


This special issue is composed of revisions of papers originally presented at a conference on Alasdair MacIntyre’s Revolutionary Aristotelianism: Ethics, Resistance and Utopia, hosted by the Human Rights and Social Justice Research Institute at London Metropolitan University from 29th June to 1st July 2007. In publishing them, Analyse & Kritik demonstrates a continuing interest in MacIntyre’s work which began with an important symposium on After Virtue in 1984, 6(1). Now republished in a third edition, After Virtue remains central to the understanding of his work in several of the papers below (Duckworth 2007; as some papers deal with MacIntyre’s theoretical development, reference is also made to different editions). As in the earlier symposium, MacIntyre responds in a way that clarifies and extends his past arguments, his present position, and his relation to rival theories of moral, social and political practice. As the title of his response suggests, much more remains to be said on the subjects that are opened here.

The first group of papers refer, in ways that MacIntyre commends, to his characterization of his philosophy as part of an ’Aristotelian’ tradition of enquiry. The origins of this tradition are illuminatingly located by Carey Seal in the ethos of the Greek polis. Cary Nederman, a leading historian of political thought, carries Aristotelianism into the Middle Ages, demonstrating how the tradition was progressed and democratized through the excision of Aristotle’s aristocratic disdain for manual workers. Similarly, Kelvin Knight argues that MacIntyre’s further development of the tradition helps it to rebut Heideggerian critique.

MacIntyre specifies that his Aristotelianism is ’Thomistic’, and this is the subject of the next group of papers. In an interpretation of MacIntyre’s own development that he vigorously contests, Alex Bavister-Gould argues that his turn to Thomism represents a break from the argument of After Virtue. Thomas Osborne advances a Thomist defence of modern states against MacIntyre’s moral critique of modernity, whereas a robustly Thomist defence of that critique is mounted by Christopher Lutz.

The third set of papers begins with another interpretation of MacIntyre’s philosophical development from After Virtue onward, in which Marian Kuna explains the continuity in MacIntyre’s increasingly explicit acceptance of an Aristotelian metaphysics. A more novel case for the centrality of theoretical philosophy to MacIntyre’s practical philosophy is proposed by Piotr Machura. Both Seiriol Morgan and Benedict Smith elicit important clarifications of MacIntyre’s philosophical position. Smith does so by comparing his position to that of John McDowell, Morgan by challenging his critique of modern moral agency.

MacIntyre’s critique of characteristically modern theory and practice is the concern of the final six papers. Timothy Chappell argues that MacIntyre is wrong to reject liberalism’s account of radical disagreement, because such disagreement is less peculiar to modernity than MacIntyre contends. Bill Bowring argues that the bases of many rights in popular struggles for social justice affords grounds for the critique of capitalism, and this is an argument to which MacIntyre accedes with an alacrity that some may find surprising. Paul Blackledge points towards a reengagement with the idea that workers might possess the resources for socialist resistance to capitalism through a preliminary anti-critique of MacIntyre’s mature critique of Marxism, in response to which MacIntyre offers an affirmative account of his present relation to the tradition of which he was once a leading British protagonist. A clarificatory paper by Ron Beadle, the leading practitioner of a MacIntyrean empirics, argues that modern corporate management, because it necessarily prioritizes external goods, can never satisfy the criteria for what MacIntyre calls a practice. Finally, Russell Keat proposes market socialism as a third way between the capitalism that MacIntyre opposes and the politics of local community for which he continues to argue.

Other papers from the conference are published in a special issue of Philosophy of Management 6(3) (edited by Ron Beadle and by the target of Beadle’s critique here, Geoff Moore), and in a book, Virtue and Politics (edited, like this issue, by Paul Blackledge and Kelvin Knight), including MacIntyre’s opening address to the conference. The event has been declared the first conference of an International Society for MacIntyrean Philosophy. The second annual ISMP conference will be at St. Meinrad in Indiana, and future conferences are planned at University College Dublin and ISM University, Vilnius. The kind of interest in MacIntyre’s work that has been sustained by Analyse & Kritik looks set to grow.

Kelvin Knight, Paul Blackledge

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Table of Contents

Title: MacIntyre and the Polis
Author: Carey Seal
Page: 5-16

Abstract: This paper traces Alasdair MacIntyre’s account of the development of the Greek polis as presented in A Short History of Ethics, After Virtue, and Whose Justice? Which Rationality?. The paper argues for the centrality of Aristotle’s conception of po- litics as an architectonic art to this account. It explores the foundations of MacIntyre’s presentation of moral rationality in Homer and offers the poems of Hesiod as an aid to understanding MacIntyre’s view of the post-Homeric crisis in Greek ethics. Aristotle is then invoked to show how MacIntyre represents the polis as a classical response to that crisis.

Title: Men at Work: Politics and Labour in Aristotle and Some Aristotelians
Author: Cary J. Nederman
Page: 17-31

Abstract: In Book 3 of his Politics, and again in Book 7, Aristotle makes explicit his disdain for the banausos (often translated ’mechanic’) as an occupation qualified for full civic life. Where modern admirers of Aristotle, such as Alasdair MacIntyre, have taken him at face value concerning this topic and thus felt a need to distance themselves from him, I claim that the grounds that Aristotle offers for the exclusion of banausoi from citizenship are not consistent with other important teachings (found in the eighth book of the Politics as well as in several of his other writings) about the nature of poesis (’productive science’, which is the form of knowledge characteristic of the so-called ’mechanical arts’). I further support this claim with reference to the role played by the mechanical arts within the Aristotelian framework of knowledge that one encounters in medieval European thought between the twelfth and the fourteenth centuries, with particular reference to Hugh of St. Victor, John of Salisbury, and Marsiglio of Padua.

Title: After Tradition?: Heidegger or MacIntyre, Aristotle and Marx
Author: Kelvin Knight
Page: 33-52

Abstract: Philosophical tradition has been challenged by those who would have us look to our own practice, and to nothing beyond. In this, the philosophy of Martin Heidegger is followed by the politics of Hannah Arendt, for whom the tradition of political philosophy terminated with Karl Marx’s theorization of labour. This challenge has been met by Alasdair MacIntyre, for whom the young Marx’s reconceptualization of production as a social activity can inform an Aristotelianism that addresses our shared practices in traditional, teleological terms. Looking to the social nature of our practices orientates us to common goods, to the place of those goods in our own lives, and to their place within political communities. MacIntyre’s Thomistic Aristotelian tradition has Heideggerian and other philosophical rivals, but he argues that it represents our best way of theorizing practice.

Title: The Uniqueness of After Virtue (or ’Against Hindsight’)
Author: Alex Bavister-Gould
Page: 55-74

Abstract: The paper questions the extent to which MacIntyre’s current ethical and political outlook should be traced to a pro ject begun in After Virtue. It is argued that, instead, a critical break comes in 1985 with his adoption of a ’Thomistic Aristotelian’ standpoint. After Virtue’s ’positive thesis’, by contrast, is a distinct position in MacIntyre’s intellectual journey, and the standpoint of After Virtue embodies substantial commitments not only in conflict with, but antithetical to, MacIntyre’s later worldview mostly clearly illustrated in the contrasting positions on moral conflict and tragedy.

Title: MacIntyre, Thomism and the Contemporary Common Good
Author: Thomas Osborne
Page: 75-90

Abstract: Alasdair MacIntyre’s criticism of contemporary politics rests in large part on the way in which the political communities of advanced modernity do not recognize common goals and practices. I shall argue that although MacIntyre explicitly recognizes the influence of Jacques Maritain on his own thought, MacIntyre’s own views are incompatible not only with Maritain’s attempt to develop a Thomistic theory which is compatible with liberal democracy, but also relies on a view of the individual as a part which is related to the whole in a way that is incompatible with Maritain’s understanding of the spiritual individual or person.

Title: From Voluntarist Nominalism to Rationalism to Chaos: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Critique of Modern Ethics
Author: Christopher Stephen Lutz
Page: 91-99

Abstract: The purpose of this essay is to connect the ’Disquieting Suggestion’ at the beginning of After Virtue to a broader picture of Alasdair MacIntyre’s critique of modern moral philosophy. The essay begins with MacIntyre’s fictional scientific catastrophe, and uses four passages from the text of After Virtue to identify the analogous real philosophical catastrophe. The essay relates the resulting critique of modern moral philosophy to MacIntyre’s concern for recognizing the social practices of morality as human actions in ’Notes from the Moral Wilderness’. The essay concludes by considering the implications of MacIntyre’s philosophy for the study of history, realism, and tradition.

Title: MacIntyre’s Search for a Defensible Aristotelian Ethics and the Role of Metaphysics
Author: Marian Kuna
Page: 103-119

Abstract: MacIntyre is a ma jor defender of the resurgence of the Aristotelian approach in ethical and political theory. He considers Aristotelianism not only a feasible, but also an intellectually superior alternative to most contemporary dominant ideologies, and to liberalism in particular. There is, however, an important and instructive modification to his view of what is admissible from Aristotle that should be accounted for. The paper traces MacIntyre’s search for a defensible restatement of the Aristotelian ethics and examines in particular his changing attitude to metaphysics as the basis for ethics within his pro ject. Different stages of the development to his proposed Aristotelian alternative are analyzed and evaluated. The paper tries to show that despite the fact that MacIntyre initially repudiated Aristotle’s metaphysical biology, nevertheless his account has always been (implicitly or explicitly) metaphysical.

Title: MacIntyre’s Radical Intellectualism: The Philosopher as a Moral Ideal
Author: Piotr Machura
Page: 121-138

Abstract: The question I address in the paper is ’What is the ideal of MacIntyre’s moral philosophy? What is the telos of human nature?’ Considering MacIntyre’s critique of modern culture, politics and philosophy, anti-intellectualism emerges as the main reason for his refutation of these values. So is it a reason for moral and political distortion that leads to the interpassivity of the modern self. Taking into account MacIntyre’s idea of characters I pinpoint the character of the philosopher as a moral ideal of MacIntyre’s thought. For it is not only intellectual activity within any practice that enables us to develop our distinctively human nature but also philosophy that is the highest form of that kind of activity. From this point of view, it is crucial to grasp philosophy as a required way of life and the craft that enables us to be moral and political agents.

Title: Traditional Moral Knowledge and Experience of the World
Author: Benedict Smith
Page: 139-155

Abstract: MacIntyre shares with others, such as John McDowell, a broad commitment in moral epistemology to the centrality of tradition and both regard forms of enculturation as conditions of moral knowledge. Although MacIntyre is critical of the thought that moral reasons are available only to those whose experience of the world is conceptually articulated, he is sympathetic to the idea that the development of sub jectivity involves the capacity to appreciate external moral demands. This paper critically examines some aspects of MacIntyre’s account of how knowledge is related to tradition, and suggests ways in which the formation of moral sub jectivity involves the ability to experience the world.

Title: Unmasking MacIntyre’s Metaphysics of the Self
Author: Seiriol Morgan
Page: 157-175

Abstract: This paper focuses on Alasdair MacIntyre’s critique of the modern self, arguing that we are not as bereft of the resources to engage in rational thought about value as he makes out. I claim that MacIntyre’s argument presumes that philosophy has a much greater power to shape individuals and cultures than it in fact has. In particular, he greatly exaggerates the extent to which the character of the modern self has been an effect of the philosophical views of the self that have been influential during the period, leading him to be overly pessimistic about its nature and powers. Finally, I argue that MacIntyre has provided us with no strong reason for thinking that a moral tradition structured by modern values could not be viable.

Title: Radical Disagreement: Utopias and the Art of the Possible
Author: Timothy Chappell
Page: 179-203

Abstract: I begin this paper by examining what MacIntyre has to tell us about radical disagreements: how they have arisen, and how to deal with them, within a polity. I conclude by radically disagreeing with Macintyre: I shall suggest that he offers no credible alternative to liberalism’s account of radical disagreements and how to deal with them. To put it dilemmatically: insofar as what MacIntyre says is credible, it is not an alternative to liberalism; insofar as he presents a genuine alternative to liberalism, this alternative is not credible. In large part the credibility problems that I see for MacIntyre’s pro ject arise from the history on which he bases it; it is with this history that I begin. Reflection on MacIntyre’s profound and subtle political philosophy thus fails to dislodge liberalism from its contemporary intellectual supremacy a supremacy which I think liberalism has well earned. If anything, such reflection enhances the hegemony of liberalism still further. And a good thing too.

Title: Misunderstanding MacIntyre on Human Rights
Author: Bill Bowring
Page: 205-214

Abstract: This short article starts with Alasdair MacIntyre’s famous critical remarks on human rights in After Virtue, and proceeds to ask whether in fact MacIntyre can be read against himself, taking a range of his own texts. This provides the basis for a sketch of a substantive account of human rights, more historicised and political than those for which MacIntyre has so little time. The article engages with some leading English Aristotelians James Griffin and John Tasioulas in particular. MacIntyre has been a Marxist: this article suggests that perhaps he still is and that a consistent Aristotelian is a Marxist, especially where human rights are concerned.

Title: Alasdair MacIntyre’s Contribution to Marxism: A Road Not Taken
Author: Paul Blackledge
Page: 215-227

Abstract: This essay questions, through a critique of his reading of classical Marxism, the path taken by Alasdair MacIntyre since his break with the Marxist Left in the 1960s. It argues that MacIntyre was uncharitable in his criticisms of Marxism, or at least in his conflation of the most powerful aspects of the classical Marxist tradition with the crudities of Kautskyian and Stalinist materialism. Contra MacIntyre, this essay locates in the writings of the revolutionary Left which briefly flourished up to and just after the Russian Revolution a rich source of dialectical thinking on the relationship between structure and agency that escapes the twin errors of crude materialism or political voluntarism. Moreover, it suggests that by reaching back to themes reminiscent of the young Marx this tradition laid the basis for a renewed ethical Marxism, and that in his youth MacIntyre pointed to the realisation of this project.

Title: Why Business Cannot be a Practice
Author: Ron Beadle
Page: 229-241

Abstract: In a series of papers Geoff Moore has applied Alasdair MacIntyre’s much cited work to generate a virtue-based business ethics. Central to this pro ject is Moore’s argument that business falls under MacIntyre’s concept of ’practice’. This move attempts to overcome MacIntyre’s reputation for being ’anti-business’ while maintaining his framework for evaluating social action and replaces MacIntyre’s hostility to management with a conception of managers as institutional practitioners (craftsmen). I argue however that this move has not been justified. Given the importance MacIntyre places on the protection of practices, the result is that much of Moore’s contribution is misplaced. Business cannot name a practice but business institutions certainly do house practices. The task then is to try to understand the circumstances under which practices might flourish and those under which they might founder in a business context. This is not aided by Moore’s redescription of all businesses as practices.

Title: Ethics, Markets and MacIntyre
Author: Russell Keat
Page: 243-257

Abstract: MacIntyre’s theory of practices, institutions, and their respective kinds of goods, has revived and enriched the ethical critique of market economies, and his view of politics as centrally concerned with common goods and human flourishing presents a ma jor challenge to neutralist liberal theorists’ attempts to exclude distinctively ethical considerations from political deliberation. However, the rejection of neutrality does not entail the rejection of liberalism tout court : questions of human flourishing may be accorded a legitimate role in political decisions including those about economic systems - provided that the powers of the state remain sub ject to certain recognizably liberal constraints. Further, although neutralist liberals often defend market economies on the mistaken grounds that they alone are consistent with the principle of ethical neutrality, a non-neutralist defence of them should not be ruled out, especially if the substantive theory of goods used to evaluate them is somewhat less restrictive than MacIntyre’s.

Title: What More Needs to Be Said? A Beginning, Although Only a Beginning, at Saying It
Author: Alasdair MacIntyre
Page: 261-281

Abstract: The responses to my critics are as various as their criticisms, focusing successively on the distinctive character of modern moral disagreements, on the nature of common goods and their relationship to the virtues, on how the inequalities generated by advanced capitalist economies and by the contemporary state prevent the achievement of common goods, on issues concerning the nature of the self, on what it is that Marx's theory enables us to understand and on how some Marxists have failed to understand, on the differences between my philosophical stances and those both of John McDowell and of the physicalists, on the nature of human rights and of productive work, on the ancient Greek polis, and on the metaphysical commitments presupposed by my theorizing.