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Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association

Volume 93, 2019

Allison Postell
Pages 239-252

The Nature of Virtue Ethics

In Dependent Rational Animals, Alasdair MacIntyre claims that human beings need the virtues. This attempt to claim that human nature is the source and standard of living well does not fully meet John McDowell’s challenge to those who would claim that human nature is ethically normative. A being with practical reason, McDowell explains, can step back from and judge natural impulses. Why, then, should nature have any normative authority over a practically rational being? While MacIntyre’s descriptions of why human beings need the virtues are largely correct, I contend that his position can be fully vindicated by supplementing his account with an Aristotelian value-laden metaphysics. By exploring why Aristotle maintains that goodness is coextensive with “that for the sake of which” and a being’s nature, it is possible to see why virtues are proper objects of practical reason and why it is normatively better for humans to contribute to communal networks of care.

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