After Virtue Book Summary - After Virtue Book explained in key points

After Virtue summary

Alasdair MacIntyre

Brief summary

After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre is a philosophical exploration of the collapse of moral discourse in modern society. It argues for a return to Aristotelian ethics and the recovery of virtuous practices in order to establish a coherent moral framework.

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    After Virtue
    Summary of key ideas

    Moral Chaos and Its Consequences

    In After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre, it becomes apparent that our society is in a state of profound moral confusion. We find ourselves navigating a chaotic landscape of subjective ethics, where we can no longer agree on what virtue even means. According to MacIntyre, this moral fragmentation – an aftereffect of the Enlightenment's failure to provide a unified view of the world – marks a departure from Aristotelian views of ethics and virtue grounded in shared community standards.

    MacIntyre casts a wide net, tracing the disintegration of morality from the Greek, to the medieval, post-Enlightenment, and modern periods. He provides a nostaligic portrayal of medieval society where morality was deeply rooted in the complex weave of community life and interdependence. This contrasts sharply with the contemporary disarray where 'enlightened' individuals are left to their personal morality, leading to the fragmentation and incoherence we experience today.

    The Failure of Enlightenment and the Emotivist Society

    MacIntyre argues that the Enlightenment project, supposed to replace Aristotelianism with a foundation for moral discourse accessible to reason alone, ended in failure. Instead of anchoring ethical theories rationally, the Enlightenment attempted to separate values from facts, hence leaning towards relativism. This leads to the creation of 'emotivism', a theory he uses to describe our present moral state where value judgments are simply expressions of personal preference.

    In the emotivist society, as MacIntyre puts it, manipulative rhetoric reigns as debate stems from personal feelings or preferences rather than a common understanding of virtue. This lack of objectivity pressures us into accepting authoritative or bureaucratic edicts as moral standards, undermining our autonomy and leading to further moral disorientation.

    A Return to the Virtue Ethics

    As a solution to the moral crisis, MacIntyre suggests a return to Aristotelian virtue ethics, a system where moral rules are embedded within a community's shared practices, narrative history, and tradition. Virtue ethics, he argues, offers a way out of emotivism as it focuses on the character traits needed to fulfil our roles within the community and achieve our 'telos', or ultimate purpose. In MacIntyre’s own words, man is a "story-telling animal," emphasizing our need for communal narrative to make sense of our individual and shared moral lives.

    The proposed return to virtue ethics is not a call for blind traditionalism, but rather an appeal for us to engage in active dialogue with our shared narrative and communal practices. This approach reintegrates morality with the social context, affirming our interdependencies and offering a substantial, shared conception of the good life.

    Breaking Free from Modern Moral Dissolution

    In the final sections of After Virtue, MacIntyre provides a critique of liberalism, which he considers an embodiment of emotivism, leading to standard-less decision making and an atomised society. He urges us to re-evaluate our political landscape, structured around aimless individualism, and to reinvigorate our social institutions with a cohesive moral framework derived from shared practices and narratives.

    MacIntyre’s After Virtue is thus a profound call to arms against the moral dissolution of our times. By urging a return to a collective understanding of virtue drawn from shared narratives and community practices, MacIntyre provides a possible path out of our modern moral malaise and into a more coherent, ethical future inspired by the Aristotelian tradition.

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    What is After Virtue about?

    After Virtue explores the decline of moral reasoning in modern society and argues for a return to Aristotelian ethics. Alasdair MacIntyre critiques the fragmented and subjective nature of moral discourse and offers a compelling case for reviving virtue ethics as a way to address the moral confusion of our time. This thought-provoking book challenges readers to reconsider their understanding of morality and the pursuit of the good life.

    After Virtue Review

    After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre (1981) explores the decline of moral philosophy in modern society and offers a compelling argument for a return to the Aristotelian virtue ethics. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • It provides a powerful critique of modern moral philosophy, questioning the foundation of moral judgments and offering a fresh perspective.
    • MacIntyre presents a nuanced analysis of the concept of virtue, delving into its historical significance and its implications for moral decision-making.
    • The book challenges readers to rethink their understanding of morality and to consider the importance of tradition and community in shaping ethical values.

    Who should read After Virtue?

    • Individuals seeking a deeper understanding of morality and ethics
    • Philosophy enthusiasts interested in the history and development of moral philosophy
    • Readers curious about the connection between virtue and human flourishing

    About the Author

    Alasdair MacIntyre is a prominent philosopher known for his work in moral and political theory. He has made significant contributions to the study of ethics, particularly through his book "After Virtue." In this influential work, MacIntyre critiques modern moral philosophy and argues for a return to virtue ethics. He explores the historical development of moral concepts and presents a compelling case for the importance of tradition and community in shaping ethical values. MacIntyre's other notable works include "Whose Justice? Which Rationality?" and "Dependent Rational Animals."

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    After Virtue FAQs 

    What is the main message of After Virtue?

    The main message of After Virtue is that modern morality is in a state of disorder and needs a return to virtue ethics.

    How long does it take to read After Virtue?

    The reading time for After Virtue varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is After Virtue a good book? Is it worth reading?

    After Virtue is worth reading for its insightful critique of modern morality and its call for a return to virtue ethics.

    Who is the author of After Virtue?

    The author of After Virtue is Alasdair MacIntyre.

    What to read after After Virtue?

    If you're wondering what to read next after After Virtue, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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