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This article explores Alasdair MacIntyre’s social philosophy, which is regarded as both a sweeping criticism of the moral incoherence of modern society and a wide-ranging challenge to value-neutral and descriptive sociology. MacIntyre argues that any moral philosophy presupposes sociology, and hence the following discussion outlines his sociology as the underpinning of his criticisms of emotivism – the proposition that what is pleasurable to me and aesthetically satisfying is the good – in modern philosophy. MacIntyre is criticized on two grounds: firstly his work creates a nostalgic picture of the coherence of past communities; and secondly it neglects the growth of human rights and international law as instances of a shared moral system that is not based on emotivism. Indeed his Dependent Rational Animals can offer a notion of the ontology of human rights based on human vulnerability. The article concludes with a comparison of MacIntyre and Jacques Maritain, who, from the work of Aristotle and Aquinas, contributed to the construction of human rights as the modern version of natural rights. The growth of international law and human rights suggests that MacIntyre’s pessimistic view of the collapse of a common moral vocabulary is unfounded.


Institute for Religion, Politics, and Society

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Journal Article

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