I read this book conflicted. On the one hand the book contained sentences, frequent sentences, of such numbing bodilessness as "For beside rights and utility, among the central moral fictions of the age we have to place the peculiarly managerial fiction embodied in the claim to possess systematic effectiveness in controlling certain aspects of social reality." On the other hand the book was so fascinating I could scarcely put it down at points. It felt like masochism.
All this to say: MacIntyre writes a moral thriller of great drama and urgency. He writes it with a tactic used by more conventional suspense novelists like Ruth Rendell: give the end at the beginning, then explain how such a bizarre and catastrophic end came to be. Our moral language assumes a universality we do not believe, he argues at the beginning. How have our moral beliefs become so ruptured from (and so much smaller than) the language we use to describe them? That rupture is the history he traces. The setting is the Western world; the characters are philosophers; the plot is the murder of Aristotle. Who killed him? Was it Hume in the Enlightenment with the candlestick? Was it Machiavelli in the Renaissance? Was it Kierkegaard the Dane with a book: Enten-Eller? Was it the Bloomsbury group with their emotivist approach to ethics? Was it, after all has been said and done, Nietzsche?
And, can Aristotle (and his teleological view of morality) be brought back to life?
MacIntyre's style is that of a perfectly trustworthy guide. He fends off more counter-arguments than I could have generated for him in a lifetime. "How is he going to get out of this scrape he's just identified?" I asked myself, and rested in peace that he would. He manages to tie literature, scientific results, case studies and metaphorical examples to his abstractions, rendering his work not only readable but practical.
The narrative structure of the book (its movement through time) is intricate. For perhaps the first time in my (limited) exposure to philosophy, I found myself in suspense. Knowing what happened, I wanted to know, had to know, why--because it is my story, and yours, and the crux of the plot has been reached, but the end has not yet been written.