Book Review: After Virtue

By Craig Wright | 25 Jan 2022 | Economics

Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory provides a cogent and compelling argument for virtue ethics over Kantian deontological theories and utilitarian values [1]. As a critique of bureaucracy and management, the book is a scathing and damning indictment on the growth of bureaucratic systems. MacIntyre demonstrates that many experts are little more than individuals implementing social-control mechanisms. In his exposé of bureaucracy, MacIntyre exposes the wizard behind the curtain.

As far as the growth of modern government is concerned, much of the underlying premise has been tendered based upon the proposed hypothesis of knowledge and scientific expertise [2]. As MacIntyre notes, the system created is one in which bureaucracy and individualism become partners and antagonists in an environment where the motor is running naturally at home [3]. The system that is developed places bureaucracies above individuals [4]. As such, bureaucracy is sovereign [5].

In his work, MacIntyre uncovers a profound understanding of system design. Through an analysis of the Church-Turing thesis, the analysis of organisational predictability and success is demonstrated to be mutually exclusive [6]. Extending the argument allows the author to demonstrate how the form of totalitarian government imagined by Aldous Huxley or George Orwell will fail, in its rigidity and inefficiency [7]. The desire for conformity in such societies will stifle innovation, allowing competing societies to win in the long run. Here, many aspects of managerial expertise are demonstrated to amount to little more than social-control mechanisms [8].

Some critics, such as West, have contended that MacIntyre argued that “management embodies emotivism and is thus inherently amoral and manipulative” [9]. MacIntyre demonstrates that emotivism relies on using others as means and never as ends [10]. Mintzberg argues that while it is challenging to separate management and leadership, it is leadership that makes corporations and governments grow [11]. Through it, we can see that leadership requires an ethical foundation that consists not merely of management or rules but of a system where the leader sets the tone of the organisation through their actions and by setting an example [12].

In a thorough analysis of the impacts of innovation on society, MacIntyre demonstrates that it cannot be feasible to create a system based on predictions or what we believe will be. We cannot know what will be invented before it is invented. To explain the scenario, the author describes the process of documenting the wheel. In a mock example first presented by Karl Popper, MacIntyre demonstrates how a Stone Age bureaucrat would not have been able to document the invention of the wheel, and all its ancillary technologies, without inventing the wheel [13]. Similarly, the invention of modern computing would not have occurred before Turing provided the theory underlying nearly all modern computing [14]. Yet, government and bureaucratic leaders continue to assume that they can predict the future.

Society and bureaucrats cannot tell us what will be next. Instead, all periods of history are ones of invention, continuous innovation, and change. As MacIntyre demonstrates, the social sciences have lacked predictive power, yet all too often continue to be presented as hard science [15]. It needs to be remembered that “if then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” (Luke 16:11). Importantly, it is also essential to remember that “everyone to whom much was given, of him, much will be required, and from him to whom they entrusted much, they will demand more” (Luke 12:48). We must act not as bureaucratic managers but as stewards of an organisation we seek to grow.

In an approach akin to Aristotle’s, MacIntyre contends that ethics and politics are inseparable [16]. Likewise, it seems that bureaucracies have become a haven for irresponsible management [17]. The modern political and economic system has created a series of cultural institutions based on bureaucratic myths of expertise, leading to casino capitalism [18]. Yet, it does not need to be the way in which we manage corporations or even governments. The creation of conscientious capitalism and entrepreneurship based on leadership rather than bureaucratic dominance shines a light through the end of the tunnel. It provides an alternative to the dystopian views of Orwellian bureaucracy [19].

Footnotes

1. MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. A&C Black, 2013.

2. Sager, Fritz, and Rosser, Christian. “Weber, Wilson, and Hegel: Theories of modern bureaucracy.” Public Administration Review 69, no. 6 (2009): 1136-1147.

3. MacIntyre, Alasdair. After virtue. A&C Black, 2013. p. 35.

4. Ibid. p. 228.

5. Ibid. p. 263.

6. MacIntyre, Alasdair. After virtue. A&C Black, 2013. p. 105-06.; Church, Alonzo. “AM Turing, On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.” Journal of Symbolic Logic 2, no. 1 (1937): 42-43.

7. MacIntyre, Alasdair. After virtue. A&C Black, 2013. p. 106.

8. Ibid. p. 74-75, 107.

9. West, Andrew. “After virtue and accounting ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics 148, no. 1 (2018): 21-36.

 10. MacIntyre, Alasdair. After virtue. A&C Black, 2013. p. 23-24.

11. Mintzberg, Henry. Managing. Pearson Education, 2009.

12. Knights, David, and O’Leary, Majella. “Leadership, ethics and responsibility to the other.” Journal of Business Ethics 67, no. 2 (2006): 125-137.

13. MacIntyre, Alasdair. After virtue. A&C Black, 2013. p. 93.

14. Ibid. p. 94,; Turing, Alan M. “Computability and λ-definability.” The Journal of Symbolic Logic 2, no. 4 (1937): 153-163.

15. Ibid. p. 88-106.

16. Ibid. p. 82.; Grant, Alexander, ed. The ethics of Aristotle. Vol. 2. Longmans, Green, 1874.

17. Mintzberg, Henry, and Laasch, Oliver. “Mintzberg on (ir) responsible management.” In Research Handbook of Responsible Management. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020.

18. Strange, Susan. Casino capitalism. Manchester University Press, 2015.

19. Whistler, Caroline. “Entrepreneurship and “Conscientious Capitalism”? Economic Solidarity Within the Banco Palmas Network.” (2006).

References

Church, Alonzo. “AM Turing, On Computable Numbers, with an Application to the Entscheidungsproblem.” Journal of Symbolic Logic 2, no. 1 (1937): 42-43.

Grant, Alexander, ed. The ethics of Aristotle. Vol. 2. Longmans, Green, 1874.

Knights, David, and Majella O’Leary. “Leadership, ethics and responsibility to the other.” Journal of Business Ethics 67, no. 2 (2006): 125-137.

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. A&C Black, 2013.

Mintzberg, Henry, and Laasch, Oliver. “Mintzberg on (ir) responsible management.” In Research Handbook of Responsible Management. Edward Elgar Publishing, 2020.

Sager, Fritz, and Rosser, Christian. “Weber, Wilson, and Hegel: Theories of modern bureaucracy.” Public Administration Review 69, no. 6 (2009): 1136-1147.

Strange, Susan. Casino capitalism. Manchester University Press, 2015.

Turing, Alan M. “Computability and λ-definability.” The Journal of Symbolic Logic 2, no. 4 (1937): 153-163.

West, Andrew. “After virtue and accounting ethics.” Journal of Business Ethics 148, no. 1 (2018): 21-36.

Whistler, Caroline. “Entrepreneurship and “Conscientious Capitalism”? Economic Solidarity Within the Banco Palmas Network.” 2006.

[Image: Crooped of The “School of Athens”. Raphael, Public domain, Wikimedia Commons]



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