A Miscellany of Study

Category: Alasdair MacIntyre

Our Only Shared Morality

What is made true by this ideological success — as well as by ‘power and money’ — is not participative citizens collectively ruling themselves but subjects attributing ‘democracy’ to the state, accepting that they are morally obliged to obey its commands and, even, to participating in its electoral rituals.  Indeed, so successful has been contemporary liberalism that the idea of the good is now widely regarded as private and merely subjective whilst that of right has been detached from it and identified with the law enforced by the state, justice being equated with adherence to the state’s procedures.  Our only shared morality is that of acquiescent obedience to power, and what the powerful tells us to fear is any appeal to first principles or final ends.  A more insidiously demoralizing ideology of passivity and manipulation is hard to imagine. (176)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre

Preferential Option

It is with those whose actions are most immediately and constantly constrained by material need who most keenly understand self-estrangement and desire its end, and it is those who labour who are likely to have most insight into how best to reform society. (108)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre

What Morality is Not

Morality is not something to be separated from sensuous reality and then theorized a priori in some pure, idealized form.  It is not something that individuals, as social beings, can or should autonomously impose on their own practice in consistent defiance of social relations and pressures.  Nor is it something that they should seek to impose upon themselves in resistance to their own desires. (105)

Kelvin Knight | Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre

Secularism & Class Conflict

The key difference between the seventeenth- and the eighteenth-century examples is the consciousness of the emerging autonomy of secular life.  This autonomy is strengthened by the tendency apparent in secular life for economic growth to result in the splitting of society into new kinds of class division.  The relations between classes become in crucial ways relations of conflict.  It is of course true that throughout the course of these conflicts there are attempts to continue the appeal to common norms and to revive the older social and moral values, but the changing structure of society makes it only too obvious to all parties that the alleged authoritative norms to which appeal is made are in fact man-made, and that they are not the norms of the whole community to which in their own way men of every rank are equally subject.  In so far as the norms which do govern the new standard economic, political, and social relations between classes are given a religious significance, what happens is that religion is invoked to justify the norms which one class wishes and is able to use against another.  (13-14)

Alasdair MacIntyre | Secularization and Moral Change

Religion & Urbanization

In both the United States and Britain there has been, and there still is, a significant relationship between the size of a given city and the church membership and attendance in that city.  In general the larger the population of a city the smaller the proportion of church members in that population.  Why?  An answer that at first sight must appear only to take us round in a circle is that the larger the city the higher tends to be the proportion of working-class population; but what I in fact want to suggest is that the distinctive forms of urban working-class life in the industrial city, as they came into being, and as they are to be contrasted with, for example, working-class life in the domestic industries of the eighteenth century or in the earlier and smaller commercial city, marked a distinct change so far as religion is concerned.  What the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution meant was the destruction of the older forms of community, in many cases rapidly, and in particular the destruction of those features of them to which religion had given symbolic expression.  There is first of all the loss of the background of a given and largely unalterable natural order within whose limits men of different social rank all have to live.  There is secondly the disappearance of the relative continuity and stability of social order, a stability which makes that order appear continuous with the order of nature.  There is thirdly an end to the existence of shared and established norms, common to all ranks in the community, in the light of which everyone stands either vindicated or convicted by their own conduct.  Religion, when it is the religion of a whole society, may have functions other than the expression of the natural and social order, but it is always ate least an expression of a society’s moral unity, and it lends to that unity a cosmic and universal significance and justification. (11-12)

Alasdair MacIntyre | Secularization and Moral Change