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communitarian ethics


Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


A currently influential movement of thought in Anglo-American ethical and political philosophy, it holds that our best—indeed our only—source of wisdom and guidance in these matters is the appeal to what counts as good, humane, responsible, or civilized conduct according to the standards and values that prevail within our own cultural community. This means rejecting any “formalist” (for example, Kantian) idea of ethical judgment as based on abstract principles—or universal maxims—which must then be somehow applied to particular cases through the exercise of a faculty (“practical reason”) that supposedly transcends all localized differences of interest, custom, peer-group loyalty, religious affiliation, political culture, etc. It is simply not possible, these thinkers maintain, to adopt such a stand-point above or beyond all the values, beliefs, and social obligations that constitute a shared way of life for the agents concerned. Alasdair MacIntyre's controversial book After Virtue (1980) provides the most elaborate statement of this communitarian position in ethics and political theory. According to MacIntyre we live in a world of fragmented beliefs and value systems which—as he describes them in the book's arresting first paragraph—resemble the wreckage from some natural or manmade catastrophe, some event that has left us with just bits and pieces from which to reconstruct the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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