It’s hard to avoid talk about virtues these days. American management gurus tell us we need ‘grit, consultants teach us to develop ‘resilience’ and schools of character teach pupils to think about gratitude and humility. The origin of this renaissance was principally the 1981 text ‘After Virtue’ by the moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. It has never gone out of print and is now in its third edition. Having published his first book at 23, Professor MacIntyre is working on his latest at the age of 91.
Professor Geoff Moore (Durham University) and I have recently edited a volume that celebrates MacIntyre’s work. It traces his influence on disciplines including education, Catholic philosophy and business ethics. Authored by scholars he has profoundly influenced, we worked with a publisher committed to pricing academic volumes affordably (our Kindle edition retails at less than £8).
So what lessons can be learned from Macintyre’s work by people in business? The first is that while many forms of work require and develop our virtues, others do not. Our career choices have a profound influence on the type of people we shall become, and we should look for work that creates real value. The second is that whereas classical and Christian societies taught that avarice was a vice, our society celebrates wealth and power for its own sake. When business sees profit as the purpose rather that as the by-product of excellent work, it falls into the same trap. A third lesson follows, the job of business leaders is to balance the demands of profitability with their primary purpose – enabling their people to create excellent products and services; and thereby develop their own virtues. There are plenty of such businesses and leaders in the North East.
‘Learning from MacIntyre’ is available here.
Professor Ron Beadle – Northumbria University and NIBE