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Barbarians at the Gates?,
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This review is from: After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory (Paperback)
This is a review of the third edition of 2007. I originally read the second edition (1985) on the recommendation of one of my philosophy lecturers when I did my degree. The third edition has an additional prologue, but otherwise there are no changes; it is a reprint, page by page. I was always aware that it was an important book and so it was never thrown into a charity bag like many others. It has always sat on my shelf waiting to be re-read; and now I have had the chance with this new edition. The title of the book's opening chapter - `A Disquieting Suggestion' - immediately arouses intrigue and curiosity, especially when its first sentence asks us to "Imagine that the natural sciences were to suffer the effects of a catastrophe."
Much of the first half of the volume is given over to elaborating MacIntyre's theory that the history of philosophy took a wrong turn with what he calls the `enlightenment experiment'. It is not until the fourteenth of the book's nineteen chapters that he finally starts to build the foundations of his own case, constructed on the support of the Aristotelian tradition. He declares liberal individualism to be at odds with this tradition, hence his argument's need for diversions into matters of `fact', `predictability', and `ideology'. The book's final paragraph contains warnings about "the new dark ages which are already upon us ... This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament."
It is simply not possible for me to give a full review of this book in the limited space available. My list of quotations from this book that I consider worthy of comment is much too long, and I feel I could write my own book commenting upon and refuting many of the propositions put forward. Although it is impossible to reduce the arguments in this book down to a concise soundbyte, in the prologue to this new edition he does provides some kind of summing-up by way of his critique of liberalism: (deep breath) "... the best type of human life, that in which the virtues is most adequately embodied, is lived by those engaged in constructing and sustaining forms of community directed toward the shared achievement of those common goods without which the ultimate human good cannot be achieved."
MacIntyre uses big words such as `phenomenology' and `epistemological' that can be unwieldy for those new to philosophy, but do not let these put you off, for the gist of his important argument can still be readily followed. And his suggestions are not always convincing. One senses that, however interesting and controversial his argument, that there are holes, that retorts can be offered to some of his assertions. And beware the "of courses"! There are many assumptions made. Waters can be muddied. He often reveals himself as a conservative who laments the passing of `sure' values, and sometimes states the obvious - although his explorations can be highly insightful nevertheless.
The postscript to the second edition is included in this third. Here he restates his position in the areas of the relationships between (i) philosophy to history; (ii) the virtues and relativism; and (iii) moral philosophy to theology. MacIntyre is here eager to state that `After Virtue' should be seen as a work in progress, rather than a statement set in stone. But that MacIntyre rightfully matters in today's debate on ethics is clear from the many references to his work that often appear in newspaper articles on subjects as diverse as social housing and bonuses paid to bankers. Whilst I might disagree with some of his arguments and some of his conclusions, there is much here worthy of support. MacIntyre's is a valuable argument in a twenty-first century world where ethics can appear to have disappeared from the mainstream. That situation is one that is dangerous to us all and MacIntyre tries with vigour and candour and surprising propositions to remedy the disaster to which such a world leads.