Contending Views of Morality and Sociality

In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre claims that moral theories are always tied to accounts of sociality.

“Every moral philosophy offers explicitly or implicitly at least a partial conceptual analysis of the relationship of an agent to his or her reasons, motives, intentions and actions, and in so doing generally presupposes some claim that these concepts are embodied or at least can be in the real world… [I]t would generally be a decisive refutation of a moral philosophy to show that moral agency on its own account of the matter could never be socially embodied; and it also follows that we have not yet fully understood the claims of any moral philosophy until we have spelled out what its social embodiment would be.” (p. 23)

MacIntyre gives Plato, Aristotle, Hume and Adam Smith as examples of philosophers who have explicitly taken on this task. He then adds, “At least since Moore the dominant narrow conception of moral philosophy has ensured that the moral philosophers could ignore this task.” He sees this avoidance of sociality as a key component of emotivism.

From what I see, the notion that morality has no necessary connection to social embodiment, is a sign of the progress of individualism in moral philosophy. In fact, where MacIntyre sees the failure to tie sociology and moral philosophy as a sure defeater of that moral philosophy, his opponents are likely to argue exactly the opposite. From the perspective of radical individualism, they are not primarily interested in any particular kind of morality, but in Morality, that which is universal. If an account of morality does not work for everyone, regardless of who they are, where they are, when they are, that is, regardless of their social context, then to the extent it proves to be tied to a particular kind of social embodiment it is thereby proven to be an inadequate account of morality.

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2 Responses to Contending Views of Morality and Sociality

  1. Steve says:

    Perhaps I am not understanding this deeply enough, but it seems to me that if morality only counts or works if it is a morality that works for everyone everywhere, it quickly and easily becomes impossible to grasp and easy to set aside.

    On the other hand, articulating a morality that is based on it’s embodiment seems easily cast as relativism.

    Perhaps a “relative” morality is better than no morality at all.

  2. rheyduck says:

    Relativism is exactly what this is called. Moderns want an Absolute True Morality which is Absolutely True for Everyone Everywhere All The Time. MacIntyre is arguing for a morality which is relative to:
    – A particular understanding of the good
    – A particular social setting
    – A particular form of life

    But, contrary to the Absolutists, this “relativism” is not the Absolute Relativism they fear. It is NOT the claim that it’s ok for me to murder, but not for you (or things like that).

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