Authors: Alasdair MacIntyre

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

British philosopher

Author Works


Marxism: An Interpretation, 1953 (also known as Marxism and Christianity, 1968)

The Unconscious: A Conceptual Study, 1958 (R. F. Holland, editor)

Difficulties in Christian Belief, 1959

A Short History of Ethics: A History of Moral Philosophy from the Homeric Age to the Twentieth Century, 1966

The Religious Significance of Contemporary Atheism, 1967 (with Paul Ricoeur)

Secularization and Moral Change, 1967

Herbert Marcuse: An Exposition and a Polemic, 1970

Against the Self-Images of the Age: Essays in Ideology and Philosophy, 1971

After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 1981

Whose Justice? Which Rationality?, 1988

Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition, 1990

The MacIntyre Reader, 1998 (Kelvin Knight, editor)

Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues, 1999

Edited Texts:

New Essays in Philosophical Theology, 1955 (with Antony Flew)

Metaphysical Beliefs: Three Essays, 1956 (with S. E. Toulmin and R.W. Hepburn)

Hume’s Ethical Writings: Selections, 1965

Hegel: A Collection of Critical Essays, 1972

Sociological Theory and Philosophical Analysis: A Collection, 1970 (with Dorothy Emmett)

Revisions: Changing Perspectives in Moral Philosophy, 1983 (with Stanley Hauerwas)


Alasdair Chalmers MacIntyre is one of the most significant of contemporary moral philosophers. His significance comes from his belief that moral philosophy should speak to modern culture and social debate and should engage with other areas of knowledge. His writings show a clear and expert grasp of such related areas as sociology, theology, politics, and literature. His basic stance is traditional and historicist, and is critical of liberalism and postmodernism.{$I[AN]9810001697}{$I[A]MacIntyre, Alasdair}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;MacIntyre, Alasdair}{$I[tim]1929;MacIntyre, Alasdair}

MacIntyre was born the only son of two Scottish doctors, both graduates of Glasgow University. He was educated privately and at Epsom College, south of London. From 1947 to 1950 he majored in classics at Queen Mary College, London, but decided to pursue graduate study in philosophy at Manchester University. His classical studies always stood him in good stead: His knowledge of Plato, Aristotle, and the pre-Socratic philosophers was based on a thorough knowledge of the original Greek, as his knowledge of the Roman jurisprudence writers and early church theologians was based on their Latin.

At this stage he considered himself both Christian and Marxist. His first book, Marxism: An Interpretation, was written shortly after his appointment in 1951 as lecturer in the philosophy of religion at Manchester. Though by 1968, when it was reissued as Marxism and Christianity, he had changed his beliefs, he declined to revise the original text, noting that “one cannot entirely discard either without discarding truths not otherwise available.” He continued to study traditional theology, and politically his antiliberalism continued to have a socialist basis. These beliefs were eventually discarded since, he believed, they failed to meet the actualities of the modern world. He saw many modern theologians as disguised atheists.

In 1957 MacIntyre moved to Leeds University, where he published a rebuttal of Freudianism as well as a book expressing his growing agnosticism, Difficulties in Christian Belief. Periods of research at Nuffield College, Oxford, and at Princeton University preceded his next appointment as fellow and preceptor in philosophy at University College, Oxford (1963-1966), during which period he wrote his first major book, A Short History of Ethics. This became a standard textbook for countless philosophy courses throughout the English-speaking world. In it he shows the firm historical grasp and awareness of the cultural constraints on philosophical inquiry that became major features of his mature thought. He establishes himself as an Aristotelian as modified by the medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas. He also considers the thought of nonphilosophers (here Martin Luther and Niccolò Machiavelli, for example, elsewhere Laurence Sterne and Jane Austen). The style is beautifully clear, showing his desire to communicate with lay people as much as professional academics. This volume is the best introduction to MacIntyre’s thinking.

After another short period at Princeton, he was appointed professor of sociology at the newly created University of Essex, then at the height of student radicalism. In 1970 came a move from England to the United States, with his appointment as professor of the history of ideas at Brandeis University. This was followed by a lengthier stay (1972-1980) at Boston University. During this period, a significant collection of his articles and papers appeared as Against the Self-Images of the Age. Although his rejection of Christianity, Marxism, and psychoanalysis is maintained, he remains committed to ideology as such, which he argues is needed more than ever to fill “the cultural desert created by the liberal intelligentsia.”

In 1977 he married Lynn Sumida Joy, having had one son and three daughters by previous marriages. In 1979 he won a National Endowment for the Humanities award, as he did again in 1987 and 1988; he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984. During the 1980’s his reputation led to his gaining prestigious posts, first Luce Professor at Wellesley College, then W. Alton Jones Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt University, and finally, in 1988, McMahon/Hank Professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame. Other honors have included being president of the eastern division of the American Philosophical Society for 1984 and Fellow of the American Academy in 1985. He has been involved in developing ethical concepts for education, science, and medicine.

In his later works he develops his historicist approach, developed from the work of R. G. Collingwood, in terms of “narrative” as the only sound way to reconcile the conflicting relativities and ethical systems of modernism and postmodernism. The historical disaster for modern philosophy is the Enlightenment, he argues, with its notions of a unitary rationality–even though at times, as a Scot, he appears to wear the mantle of erstwhile Scottish Enlightenment philosophers. There seems to be a reacknowledging of Christianity, though Marxism is increasingly excluded. MacIntyre refuses to be an “armchair” speculator. He engages modern culture, seeing its ills and shortcomings but holding to the need for ideology and rational debate in an age which he sees as increasingly irrational and without any commonly agreed structures for debate.

BibliographyBallard, Bruce. Understanding MacIntyre. Lanham, N.Y.: University Press of America, 2000. A short introduction for those approaching MacIntyre for the first time.Ballantoni, Lisa. Moral Progress: A Process Critique of MacIntyre. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2000. Challenges MacIntyre’s belief that a return to traditional values will restore society’s moral center, arguing instead that disputes over moral issues keeps them central to human experience and furthers moral progress.Casey, John. Pagan Virtue: An Essay in Ethics. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990. A very useful general discussion on virtue ethics from a distinguished moral philosopher.Engelhardt, H. Tristram, Jr., and Daniel Callahan, eds. Knowledge, Value, and Belief. Hastings, N.Y.: Hastings Center, 1977. This contains a chapter on MacIntyre’s earlier work, put within the context of the Hastings Center Institute of Society, Ethics, and Life Sciences, with its focus on applied ethics, and where MacIntyre worked for a year.Fuller, M. B. Making Sense of MacIntyre. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 1998. This book attempts to understand and pinpoint some of MacIntyre’s philosophical positions.Gunnemann, Jon P. “Habermas and MacIntyre on Moral Learning.” In The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics. Boston: Society of Christian Ethics, 1994. Gunnemann notes that MacIntyre dismisses Jürgen Habermas’s Kantianism in Three Rival Versions, and that Habermas also dismisses MacIntyre. He looks at differences and areas of moral convergence, suggesting that Habermas does better in accounting for moral constructions and understanding other traditions, but MacIntyre does better on questions of moral identity.Gutting, Gary. Pragmatic Liberalism and the Critique of Modernity. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999. A critical analysis of the work of Alasdair MacIntyre, Richard Rorty, and Charles Taylor.Horton, John, and Susan Mendus, eds. After MacIntyre. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994. Horton and Mendus bring together a collection of sixteen critical essays on MacIntyre, exploring especially his criticisms of the Enlightenment. The opening essay elucidates succinctly MacIntyre’s development since After Virtue. The collection as a whole balances elucidation and critique.McCann, Dennis P., and M. L. Brownsberger. “Management as a Social Practice: Rethinking Business Ethics After MacIntyre.” In The Annual of the Society of Christian Ethics. Knoxville, Tenn.: Society of Christian Ethics, 1990. The authors see MacIntyre as having uncritically assimilated Aristotle’s prejudice against commerce. They take one of MacIntyre’s “social characters,” the business manager, and challenge his concept of him, and thus his critique of modern liberal societies. The article does this, however, within the context of MacIntyre’s theory of social practices, which they wish to retain.McMylor, Peter. Alasdair MacIntyre: Critic of Modernity. London: Routledge, 1994. The fullest account so far of MacIntyre’s thinking, especially his radical critique of contemporary philosophy and culture. McMylor acknowledges both the strengths and weaknesses of such a critique.Von Dohlen, Richard F. Culture War and Ethical Theory. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1997. This book contains a chapter on MacIntyre’s philosophical theories.
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