MacIntyre’ Majoritarianism

Alasdair MacIntyre’s virtue ethics bugs me for one final reason I was reminded of during the writing of my last post. There’s nothing original about this critique but I think it sticks: MacIntyre’s virtue ethics are, as are many forms of communitarianism, majoritarian.

As Michael Sandel has said quite well, “The mere fact that certain practices are sanctioned by the traditions of a particular community is not enough to make them just. To make justice the creature of convention is to deprive it of its critical character, even if allowance is made for competing interpretations of what the relevant tradition requires.” [1]

Miguel De La Torre has spoken compellingly on this as well: “Virtues, whether beneficial or detrimental to the disenfranchised communities, are in the final analysis a construct of what the dominant culture deems morally good or evil. By constructing virtues and employing the myth of objectivity, that culture legitimizes and normalizes injustices within society… As desirable as cultivating virtues may be, their implementation can at first ignore, and then justify, unjust social structures.” [2]

It seems to me that the only way to fend off majoritarianism – be it in the form of virtue ethics or the more obvious case of utilitarianism – is with a framework of rights. But how these rights are grounded is a rather important question… Also, just to be clear, I don’t think it’s the case that virtue thinking can only be majoritarian.



[1] Michael J. Sandel, “The Limits of Communitarianism,” in Public Philosophy: Essays on Morality in Politics (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005) 254.

[2] Miguel A. De La Torre, Latina/o Social Ethics: Moving Beyond Eurocentric Moral Thinking (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2010) 28-29.



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