MacIntyre on money

Prospect Magazine

MacIntyre on money


The influential moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre has long stood outside the mainstream. Has the financial crisis finally vindicated his critique of global capitalism?

Alasdair MacIntyre argues for a single, shared view of the good life

The man in a modest dark suit and grey shirt could be mistaken, save for the presence of his wife of 33 years, for an off-duty Benedictine abbot. We’re dining in the elegant ambience of the Cambridge Catholic university chaplaincy; the conversation is animated, but the man, an 81-year-old philosopher, contents himself with a glass of water, leaving the dishes and vintage claret untouched. Self-effacing, a trifle austere, he nevertheless exudes a benign humanity from the top of his monkish haircut to his scuffed toe-caps.

Alasdair MacIntyre is one of the world’s most influential living moral philosophers. He has written 30 books on ethics and held a variety of professorial chairs over the past four decades in North America. Blending ideas from ancient Greece and medieval Christendom (with an admixture of Marxism), MacIntyre writes and lectures on the failings and discontents of “advanced modernity.” This summer he accepted an invitation from Prospect and Jesus College, Cambridge to talk to a group of academics on the economic disaster that capitalism has inflicted on itself and the world.

MacIntyre has often given the impression of a robe-ripping Savonarola. He has lambasted the heirs to the principal western ethical schools: John Locke’s social contract, Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarian “the greatest happiness for the greatest number.” Yet his is not a lone voice in the wilderness. He can claim connections with a trio of 20th-century intellectual heavyweights: the late Elizabeth Anscombe, her surviving husband, Peter Geach, and the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor, winner in 2007 of the Templeton prize. What all four have in common is their Catholic faith, enthusiasm for Aristotle’s telos (life goals), and promotion of Thomism, the philosophy of St Thomas Aquinas who married Christianity and Aristotle. Leo XIII (pope from 1878 to 1903), who revived Thomism while condemning communism and unfettered capitalism, is also an influence.

MacIntyre’s key moral and political idea is that to be human is to be an Aristotelian goal-driven, social animal. Being good, according to Aristotle, consists in a creature (whether plant, animal, or human) acting according to its nature—its telos, or purpose. The telos for human beings is to generate a communal life with others; and the good society is composed of many independent, self-reliant groups.

There are strong, albeit derivative, echoes of these ideas in the policies of Phillip Blond, David Cameron’s “Red Tory” guru. In the US, policy wonk Lew Daly pays tribute to MacIntyre and papal social teaching as he advises Barack Obama on how to create a national health service without state domination. MacIntyre differs from all these influences and alliances, from Leo XIII onwards, in his residual respect for Marx’s critique of capitalism.

MacIntyre begins his Cambridge talk by asserting that the 2008 economic crisis was not due to a failure of business ethics. The opener is not a red herring. Ever since he published his key text After Virtue in 1981, he has argued that moral behaviour begins with the good practice of a profession, trade, or art: playing the violin, cutting hair, brick-laying, teaching philosophy. Through these everyday social practices, he maintains, people develop the appropriate virtues. In other words, the virtues necessary for human flourishing are not a result of the top-down application of abstract ethical principles, but the development of good character in everyday life. After Virtue, which is in essence an attack on the failings of the Enlightenment, has in its sights a catalogue of modern assumptions of beneficence: liberalism, humanism, individualism, capitalism. MacIntyre yearns for a single, shared view of the good life as opposed to modern pluralism’s assumption that there can be many competing views of how to live well.

In philosophy he attacks consequentialism, the view that what matters about an action is its consequences, which is usually coupled with utilitarianism’s “greatest happiness” principle. He also rejects Kantianism—the identification of universal ethical maxims based on reason and applied to circumstances top down. MacIntyre’s critique routinely cites the contradictory moral principles adopted by the allies in the second world war. Britain invoked a Kantian reason for declaring war on Germany: that Hitler could not be allowed to invade his neighbours. But the bombing of Dresden (which for a Kantian involved the treatment of people as a means to an end, something that should never be countenanced) was justified under consequentialist or utilitarian arguments: to bring the war to a swift end.

While utilitarianism flourished in Anglophone moral philosophy in the second half of the 20th century, there were doubts about its integrity—and the critique was led by the late Bernard Williams and MacIntyre. Williams attempted to expose utilitarianism’s limitations with a famous anecdote. A brilliant chemist is unemployed with five children to feed and an unpaid mortgage. There’s a job going at Porton Down, the British centre for chemical warfare. The chemist hates these weapons—but if he doesn’t take the job, another person will, who would pursue the research more ardently. Williams argues in his book Utilitarianism: For and Against (co-written with JJ Smart) that a utilitarian would say the man should definitely take the job. But, Williams argues, that does not take into account the man’s “whole life project”: in more popular terms, his ability to look at himself in the mirror.

For MacIntyre, Williams’s “whole life project” is a thin and uncertain principle. MacIntyre seeks to oppose utilitarianism on the grounds that people are called on by their very nature to be good, not merely to perform acts that can be interpreted as good. The most damaging consequence of the Enlightenment, for MacIntyre, is the decline of the idea of a tradition within which an individual’s desires are disciplined by virtue. And that means being guided by internal rather than external “goods.” So the point of being a good footballer is the internal good of playing beautifully and scoring lots of goals, not the external good of earning a lot of money. The trend away from an Aristotelian perspective has been inexorable: from the empiricism of David Hume, to Darwin’s account of nature driven forward without a purpose, to the sterile analytical philosophy of AJ Ayer and the “demolition of metaphysics” in his 1936 book Language, Truth and Logic.


When it comes to the money-men, MacIntyre applies his metaphysical approach with unrelenting rigour. There are skills, he argues, like being a good burglar, that are inimical to the virtues. Those engaged in finance—particularly money trading—are, in MacIntyre’s view, like good burglars. Teaching ethics to traders is as pointless as reading Aristotle to your dog. The better the trader, the more morally despicable.

At this point, MacIntyre appeals to the classical golden mean: “The courageous human being,” he cites Aristotle as saying, “strikes a mean between rashness and cowardice… and if things go wrong she or he will be among those who lose out.” But skilful money-men, MacIntyre argues, want to transfer as much risk as possible to others without informing them of its nature. This leads to a failure to “distinguish adequately between rashness, cowardice and courage.” Successful money-men do not—and cannot—take into account the human victims of the collateral damage resulting from market crises. Hence the financial sector is in essence an environment of “bad character” despite the fact that it appears to many a benevolent engine of growth.

This rift between economics and ethics, says MacIntyre, stems from the failure of our culture “to think coherently about money.” Instead, we should think like Aristotle and Aquinas, who saw the value of money “to be no more, no less than the value of the goods which can be exchanged, so there’s no reason for anyone to want money other than for the goods they buy.” Money affords more choices and choice is good. But when they are imposed by others whose interest is in getting us to spend, then money becomes the sole measure of human flourishing. “Goods are to be made and supplied, insofar as they can be turned into money… ultimately, money becomes the measure of all things, including itself.” Money can now be made “from the exchange of money for money… and trading in derivatives and in derivatives of derivatives.” And so those who work in the financial sector have become dislocated from the uses of money in everyday life. One symptom of this, MacIntyre contends, is gross inequality. In 2009, for instance, the chief executives of Britain’s 100 largest companies earned on average 81 times more than the average pay of a full-time worker.


MacIntyre’s diagnosis of, and remedy for, the woes of “advanced modernity” invokes the history of his philosophical journey through six decades. Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre was born in 1929 in Glasgow, the only child of two doctors. “They left Scotland three weeks after I was born and went to work in the east end of London.” But his father died when he was still a boy, and his mother went to live in south Belfast, where he would spend his holidays from Epsom College, an independent secondary school mostly for sons of physicians. At 16 he enrolled at Queen Mary College in east London to specialise in classics. (Perhaps out of nostalgia for the east end he is now a senior research fellow at London Metropolitan University up the road.) He went on to Manchester University as a graduate student at the age of 21, and after three years was appointed to a lectureship in philosophy, followed by teaching stints at Leeds and Oxford. He was drawn early to Karl Marx and his first book was a defence of Marxism, although like many other intellectuals he changed his opinion of the Soviet Union after its suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.

Through his twenties he probed mainstream philosophy in search of a life view: to find “something that he wanted to say.” He rejected utilitarianism and its greatest happiness calculation because it appeared to provide no place for genuinely unconditional commitments, and Kantianism because, while recognising that some actions are morally required or prohibited, it offers no motivation based on our desires. “The hard work of morality,” MacIntyre insists, “consists in the transformation of desires, so that we aim at the good and respect the precepts of the natural law.”

Although baptised a Presbyterian, from his early twenties MacIntyre abandoned religion for a quarter of a century. He appears to have shared for a time AJ Ayer’s assertion that the only significant propositions are those that can be empirically or scientifically verified. MacIntyre’s conversion to Catholicism in his fifties, he tells me, occurred as a result of being convinced of Thomism while attempting to disabuse his students of its authenticity. Aquinas combined Aristotle’s account of a universe knowable through observation with Christian philosophy, arguing that such a world still required God’s existence as its sustaining creator. An Aristotelian-Thomistic view of society and the world, as set out in After Virtue, offered the best philosophical underpinning for human flourishing, and the only alternative to the fragmentation of modern moral philosophy.

MacIntyre argues that those committed to the Aristotelian-Thomistic tradition of the common good must begin again. This involves “capturing the double aspect of the globalising economy and its financial sector, so that we understand it both as an engine of growth and as such a source of benefits, but equally as a perpetrator of great harms and continuing injustices.” Apologists for globalisation, he argues, treat it as a source of benefits, and only accidentally and incidentally a source of harms. Hence, the view that “to be for or against globalisation is in some ways like being for or against the weather.”

MacIntyre maintains, however, that the system must be understood in terms of its vices—in particular debt. The owners and managers of capital always want to keep wages and other costs as low as possible. “But, insofar as they succeed, they create a recurrent problem for themselves. For workers are also consumers and capitalism requires consumers with the purchasing power to buy its products. So there is tension between the need to keep wages low and the need to keep consumption high.” Capitalism has solved this dilemma, MacIntyre says, by bringing future consumption into the present by dramatic extensions of credit.

This expansion of credit, he goes on, has been accompanied by a distribution of risk that exposed to ruin millions of people who were unaware of their exposure. So when capitalism once again overextended itself, massive credit was transformed into even more massive debt, “into loss of jobs and loss of wages, into bankruptcies of firms and foreclosures of homes, into one sort of ruin for Ireland, another for Iceland, and a third for California and Illinois.” Not only does capitalism impose the costs of growth or lack of it on those least able to bear them, but much of that debt is unjust. And the “engineers of this debt,” who had already benefited disproportionately, “have been allowed to exempt themselves from the consequences of their delinquent actions.” The imposition of unjust debt is a symptom of the “moral condition of the economic system of advanced modernity, and is in its most basic forms an expression of the vices of intemperateness, and injustice, and imprudence.”

So what is his answer? His principles involve “issues of deserving,” “responsible risk-taking,” and “setting limits to the burdens of debt.” Deserving is an issue, he argues, when the consequences of debt are inflicted on those who played no part in incurring it, such as children. Those who expose others to risk in the financial markets must spell out in public and in advance the risks that they are distributing in intelligible terms. And when risk-taking goes wrong, the consequences for those who made the decisions must be made as bad as they are for their worst-off victims. Finally, he argues that limits should be set to the burdens imposed by debt on individual and family lives, so that they are not disproportionate—this may involve caps on interest rates, as in Germany, or even forgiving debt. Despite such principles, MacIntyre does not advocate bank nationalisation, preferring it seems a return to the paternalistic style of bank manager represented by Captain Mainwaring in Dad’s Army.


Yet there is evident creativity in finance through the role of maturity transformation—borrowing short, lending long. MacIntyre does not acknowledge this, nor is he prepared to accept accounts of the positive benefits of money creation, or the use of derivatives in offsetting risk. In the face of such points he tends to adopt the stance of the intransigent prophet. Moreover, he denies that regulation or breaking up the banks can resolve the problems of the finance sector, since regulations merely “have as their aim the prevention of further large-scale crises.” When asked, then, whether his perspective is a counsel of despair, he responds that there are evils in the world that one “simply has to live with for the time being.” It does not appear that he means by this an acceptance of original sin so much as a prelude to major change or revolution. But to what?

MacIntyre appears to have entered an endgame position involving a hybrid of Marx and Aquinas, with Marx as the prime influence. His version of Aquinas, meanwhile, stresses the medieval Christian opposition to usury. John Milbank, founder of the Cambridge school of radical orthodoxy, which has influenced Blond’s Red Toryism, complains: “We are given an Aquinas that no historical scholar any longer believes in, an Aquinas without the theology. Where is Aquinas’s emphasis on the supernatural light of charity? For Aquinas there is no full justice without it, just as there is no genuinely good state without the church.” Blond echoes the objections: “It looks as if Aristotle and Aquinas have been made to conform to a Marxist materialism and collectivism. The Aristotelian virtues are simply posited as a kind of natural law.”

Nevertheless, since the formation of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, Blond has been seeking and finding connections between MacIntyre, Aquinas, GK Chesterton’s “distributism” of the 1920s, and Jo Grimond’s plea for civic groups in the 1950s. Are these not the antecedents of David Cameron’s big society? The link between Aquinas and the 20th century is distributism, a philosophy which repudiated usury, communism and capitalism in equal measure for an economy based on guilds, specialist associations, self-sufficiency and barter. MacIntyre made wistful reference in his Prospect talk to one of distributism’s principal architects—Father Vincent McNabb. Distributism as a political party collapsed in the 1930s, and Father McNabb was last heard from his soap box at Hyde Park Corner complaining of apartment blocks (which lack sufficient land to graze a cow) and advocating the use of one’s natural skin oils as a substitute for boot polish. Distributist and subsidiarist ideas, encouraging guilds and associations, flourished for a time in 1920s Italy in the form of Mussolini’s early corporatism.

If MacIntyre’s ethics of finance raises more questions than it settles, he still beguiles with his illustrations from history. For example, he entertained his listeners with the story of the founding of a diesel engine factory in which an investor and engineer came together to create an ideal small-scale business for their mutual benefit and that of the local community. Later, demonstrating the ways in which globalised “bad character” can be resisted by “virtuous risk taking,” he cited four narratives: the 18th-century Guaraní Indians (depicted in the film The Mission) who chose a collectivised future under “proto-Leninist” Jesuits rather than slavery; the early founders of the kibbutzim at odds with competing visions of collectivisation; the Kerala leaders of the Marxist Communist party of India in 1957, who placated landowners and government while helping the poor; and the small farmers of Donegal in the 1960s who chose to establish a co-operative that sustained their Gaelic-speaking community rather than emigrate.

Such stories are fascinating, but contribute little to the larger woes he had set out in his lecture, the solutions to which demand, as he acknowledges, “social structures of an economy… very different from those of either a wholly free market economy or the state-and-market economies of present-day Europe.” Other than telling us that “it would be an economy in which… deference to wealth would be recognised as a vice,” he does not enlarge. His micro-models of a proto-Leninist theocracy—a kibbutz, a Marxist Indian state, and an Irish farming co-operative—do not lead one to believe that his ideal replacement for western-style democracy and the global economy would be realistic let alone desirable.

At the end of After Virtue, however, he argues that we have already entered a new age of “darkness and barbarism” similar to the decline of the Roman empire. “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.” The survival of virtuous civilisation may depend, he implies, not on a world revolution but on the persistence of isolated communities similar to the monasteries that withstood the depredations of the dark ages. “We are waiting not for a Godot,” he concludes in After Virtue, “but for another—doubtless very different—St Benedict.” But who or what would that look like? He does not, as yet, say.

  1. October 29, 2010

    Cathal Coleman

    Is the MacIntyre Prospect lecture available online or being published separately?

  2. November 12, 2010

    jim evans

    Maybe I am thick but this chap reminds me of trying to understand Karl Popper and his pupil George Soros.

    It`s not that they lack high ideals or intellect ….but rather that intuition tells one that it will all end in tears as we ordinary higher primates struggle to make sense of their nebulous miscellany of (impractical?) ideas.

    Let them describe how they would convert Britain into an example of their ideal society so that we can get the measure of this paradise they would create……and NOT by telling us what it wouldn`t be like….that`s far too easy!

  3. November 15, 2010


    One important point regarding many criticisms of MacIntyre’s vision seems neglected: the current state of civilization in the world is a product of hundreds of years of development by millions of political/economic/cultural leaders.

    It seems not only unfair but unrealistic to demand some kind of confidently detailed explanation of what things might have looked like if things went differently in the past two hundred years.

    Similarly, is it reasonable to demand that an alternative vision create in a couple election cycles the same successes as liberal democratic capitalism did in a century? The point is that progress comes with time, and no one knows the future. What we do know is the present and specifically the kinds of cultural disorders and injustices embodied in the practices and regimes of the economies of late modernity.

    Why not decide to do the right things that we know and let the developments arise over time, instead of demanding the impossible?

  4. November 16, 2010

    jim evans

    I think it would help us all if we had a major global truth and reconciliation process aimed at giving people the information and understanding whereby they can analyse recent history and current political economic and social affairs for themselves.

    I have been living in a Britain that hoodwinks its voters about what has been happening in the past and what our future options are.

    It`s only recently that I fully grasped how the USA effectively took over control of Britain between the world wars and that it`s to benefit US investors that we are hostages in the EU,for example.

    Wheras most people in the UK could be excused for believing that we could be independent again if we left the EU.And our politicians and media appear to have no investment in diasabusing them.

  5. November 19, 2010


    I am not getting at this man in particular, but I consider your quotation: ” He was drawn early to Karl Marx and his first book was a defence of Marxism, although like many other intellectuals he changed his opinion of the Soviet Union after its suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising.”

    Are we supposed to be impressed by these “intellectuals” who stomached all that Stalin did, all that happened in the Soviet Union? The famines? The slaughters? The non-aggression pact with Hitler? The Katyn massacre? The iron curtain? The murder of millions in Soviet-occupied Europe? The Gulag? Everything before the Hungarian Uprising when the penny finally dropped?

    Truly, one has to be an “intellectual” to be thus. I must thank God every day that most of us are not “intellectuals”.

  6. November 19, 2010

    Ramesh Raghuvanshi

    Globalization is not responsible for unemployment or debt. Globalization came from new communication system and other science progress that one is need of our age.Unemployment and debt or other calamities came on us by our extreme greediness our foolishness and our mistake.Man is by nature too much selfish he never understand how keep control on himself , we have to learn self discipline,reduce our selfishness.We Must understand we could not stop progress of science. We must use it for well being of mankind,

  7. November 19, 2010

    Robert Landbeck

    By stating: “we have already entered a new age of “darkness and barbarism”, Mr. Macintyre acknowledges by default that his Catholic tradition has no means to stem that tide an nothing to put in it’s place. So to begin rebuilding our conception of common good will require ‘something’ greater than what existing religious tradition with it’s natural law ethics and theory, Catholic or otherwise has as yet provided humanity.

    And that something has already happened. What both science and religion thought impossible has been discovered. History now has it’s first fully demonstrable proof for faith. And it’s come from outside all existing faiths. Theology is about to become irrelevant. Quoting a forum review:

    \The first ever viable religious conception capable of leading reason, by faith, to observable consequences which can be tested and judged is now a reality. A teaching that delivers the first ever religious claim of insight into the human condition that meets the Enlightenment criteria of verifiable, direct cause and effect, evidence based truth embodied in experience. For the first time in history, however unexpected, the world must contend with a claim to new revealed truth, a moral wisdom not of human intellectual origin, offering access by faith, to absolute proof, an objective basis for moral principle and a fully rational and justifiable belief! \

    A moral and intellectual revolution is getting under way with an individual, spiritual/virtue/ethical conception, independent of all cultural perception, contained within a single moral command. The most potent NVDA ever imagined. More info

  8. November 20, 2010

    Ted Schrey Montreal

    The venerable Alasdair MacIntyre’s various views waft across to me as a breath of stale air. In other words, I quite agree with much of what he says, which is something that disturbs me almost daily. It’s all old hat, really.

    It is altogether unclear (to me) how the individual can adhere, or subscribe, to abstract concepts (e.g. virtue) upon which our existence is assumed to be based and by which it is assumed to be guided–as the moral philosopher must believe–and yet remain a uniquely dynamic, living entity. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.

    The trouble with globalisation is of course that it worked when much of the world was in no position to argue and compete with the economic powers nicely huddled together in the north-west of europe and, later on, parts further west.

    Late-model modernity, in contrast, takes jobs away from traditional centers of production and invention.

    No wonder it is all beginning to look rather evil and barbarous.

  9. November 20, 2010

    Ted Schrey Montreal

    ‘Debt’ is only a vice when the economic system no longer has any spring in its step–or so it seems to me.

    I cringe, for example, when I hear how well General Motors is doing again. It’s as if one is supposed to believe India and China, Europe and Brazil, and others, are meekly stepping back to make room for tradition.

    But I still think American cars suck. They always did. And they still do. It is called ‘absence of real change’.

  10. November 20, 2010

    Ted Schrey Montreal

    “Through…everyday social practices… people develop appropriate virtues”, according to MacIntyre.

    Then a little later: “the Enlightenment’s most damaging consequence [was] the decline of the idea…an individual’s desires are disciplined by virtue. Which in turn led to a shift in emphasis from ‘internal’ to ‘external’ “goods”.

    From virtue to money. And from there to the dismaying realisation there’s more money than virtue around in modern times.

    That may be, but it is hard to believe virtue and money have much to do with each other. I certainly hate to think money makes virtuous, or that being virtuous will lead to riches. Unless one is a oldfashioned Calvinist, of course.

  11. November 23, 2010


    Neither the reporter nor the commentators below seems to have understood anything of MacIntyre’s critique of the global financial system. That’s a pity, because his lecture was comprehensible with a bit more explanation of Aristotle and Aquinas.

  12. November 23, 2010

    Colin Cordner

    “It is altogether unclear (to me) how the individual can adhere, or subscribe, to abstract concepts (e.g. virtue) upon which our existence is assumed to be based and by which it is assumed to be guided–as the moral philosopher must believe–and yet remain a uniquely dynamic, living entity. It just doesn’t seem to make sense.”

    Mr. Schrey, I’d submit that the answer is actually provided by getting into the definition of virtue which is posited by Aristotle and Aquinas, and therefor accepted by Mr. MacIntyre.

    Simply put — Aristotle’s virtues are not abstractions (i.e. laws or maxims). Rather, they are a form of personal, human excellence which are both developed and expressed through activity. I.e. courage lies in acting courageously, prudence in acting prudently. Those “excellences” themselves are determined, by Aristotle as well as by the others, through the analysis of the limits, possibilities, and necessities of human existence, with a view towards it’s meaning and purpose.

    The main questions are thus whether to accept or reject the arguments that i) virtue is an activity, and ii) human existence has meaning and purpose related to that activity.

  13. November 23, 2010


    Alasdair is quite famous for his barbarians inside the gates sentence.

    Why then as an esteemed well known public Catholic intellectual and moral philosopher does he not put his principles on the line and make some public statements re who he considers these barbarians to be, or at the very least groups, organizations and political parties? Especially in the context of the now very polarized situation in the USA where he lives.

    In a similar fashion to Noam Chomsky, Juan Cole and the late Howard Zinn all of whom are/were not afraid to call a spade a spade.

  14. November 23, 2010

    Chris Floyd

    Sue — Howard Zinn! That’s a laugh.

    Mr. MacIntyre does tend to talk mostly about the upper reaches of philosophy and not politics. Not surprising, since he’s a philosopher. But in 2004 he gave his opinion on the American political situation when he declared neither candidate was worth voting for.

  15. November 24, 2010


    Yes Howard Zinn.

    He spent an entire lifetime speaking the Truth to the military-industrial-complex that has dominated USA culture and politics for the past years.

    Unlike “lofty” abstract philosophers he was fully prepared to get his hands dirty by engaging in and supporting all sorts of groups who were attempting to resist the Mega-machine. He inspired countless thousands of people to see and do things differently.

    He had no time for the lofty double-minded sophistries of “Thomism”. His role model was more like Thomas the Tank Engine – yes we can resist the Mega-machine and live humanely and decently and try to create a decent life affirming culture.

    He was a true USA patriot who unlike many of the chicken-hawks that infest the “conservative” side of USA politics and religion, actually did active front-line service in World-War II.

  16. November 26, 2010

    Tom Brookes

    He’s right in a great many respects, I agree that money, along with a few other institutions, are eating away at the moral fabric of society & humanity.

    My only issue with articles like this is in some of the language- ‘think like Aristotle, think like such-&-such’- quite frankly I think it’s time that we all stopped telling each other how to think, or thinking of ways for other people to think. Touch convoluted I know; but it’s easier to appeal to emotions than to reason.

    Tell anyone what to do, especially what to think- & if it’s different to an established norm- like a lot of these ideas are- & it’s a hard pill to swallow; particularly when pitted against vested financial self interests. Maybe it’s time we starting preaching principles rather than methodologies- reason, morality & empathy. Once people believe these are decent human principles they can be applied to all social & political institutions the world over, for everyone’s benefit- who could think that’s a bad thing?

    But I worry that it won’t work if we try & coerce or force people to live differently, or go about it by telling people that ‘this is right, you are wrong’… it’s basic psychology but telling someone something isn’t anything like as effective as letting them see it for themselves. So, as a society, I think we need to start by setting a good example, & the rest of the world will follow suit when they realise what they’re missing out on. That’s human nature too. Or maybe I’m just hopelessly optimistic.

  17. November 28, 2010

    informed commentator

    The overview is good, but the critique is tendentious and weak. That’s all that needs to be said.

  18. November 29, 2010

    michael shanks

    is it possible to have the straight MacIntyre without the Cornwell comment which is rather arrogant? Can anyone tell me where I can get the MacIntyre text?

  19. January 27, 2011

    Bruce Mazlish

    Globalization is a complex process or series of processes. Macintyre, along with many others, especially economists, seem to think it is mainly economic in cause and effect. This demonstrates a very shallow view of this historical phenomenon. It is a political, social, and cultural affair, along with being economic, with one of its most exciting prospects being the development of global consciousness and a consciousness of the globe.It is a subject for profound study and reflection, rising far beyond the mere taking of sides.
    Bruce Mazlish
    Professor of History Emeritus, MIT

  20. February 20, 2011


    Are you commenting on anything MacIntyre has said Bruce? I don’t think he would deny that globalisation is more than economics — he is merely objecting to some of the immoral consequences for the smaller, self-sufficient societies he thinks are better suited for the good life and the separation of what people do in a globalised economy from the consequences of their acts (they’re hard to keep track of).

  21. June 15, 2011


    I don’t know what all the fuss is about in relation to Black Swans MacIntyre was addressing the issue of unpredictably and the implication of the claims of managers years ago.

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John Cornwell

John Cornwell is director of the Science and Human Dimension Project at Jesus College, Cambridge 

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