by Alasdair MacIntyre
I read this book at the tail-end of a philosophy kick a few years ago. For three semesters, I audited philosophy classes at my alma mater (which, fun fact, offers one free audited class per semester to alumni!). I sat in on Intro to Philosophy, Medieval Philosophy, and Modern Philosophy. These classes weren’t required when I was in undergrad, so it was mostly new material to me.
Among the books we read, I found several eternal favorites. Augustine’s Confessions tops this list (must write about that on here sometime!). After Virtue is a close second. These are the two that I think everyone should read. Confessions gives an understanding of Christian and medieval philosophy, and does it in prose more beautiful than poetry. And After Virtue gives a history of ethics and philosophical ideals that is unmatched ~ and is easier to read than Plato!
Assigned as the last book in the last few weeks of Modern Philosophy, After Virtue was the perfect wrap-up to my philosophical wanderings. It puts each philosophical system in its historical place and shows how each led to another. It makes clear how they are all connected to their own cultural context, and how profoundly each one influenced our current cultural context.
As my Western Civ professor Dr. Jack Layman liked to say, ideas matter. Ideas shape culture. Often not immediately, but when an idea catches hold in a society, its repercussions are felt for generations.
This is true of Aristotle’s conception of “the good” and moral virtue. It is true of the Enlightenment philosophers’ insistence on individual autonomy. And it is true of Nietzsche and the Postmodernists’ nihilism.
After tracing the development of Western civilization’s ideas of virtue through thousands of years, MacIntyre brings the circle back around to the present day, using the clear, sharp beauty of Christian ideals to deconstruct the deconstructionists. He then presents a proposal for a way forward out of the morass that is postmodernity.
This book built my knowledge of historical connections, my philosophical understanding, and my faith. As I said, it’s the kind of book that everyone should read.
What are you waiting for?