Abstract

One of the most influential arguments put forward in Alasdair MacIntyre's landmark study, After Virtue, is the claim that human beings are storytelling animals, and that normative moral arguments tend to have a narrative–as well as a teleological– structure. In this study, he offers the reader three micro-histories: a history of “the virtues in heroic societies”; a brief history of their “medieval aspects and occasions”; and a history of the collapse of the tradition of the virtues, which MacIntyre portrays as a decline and fall into modernity. MacIntyre's Greek history begins unsurprisingly with Homer; more surprisingly, he equates the Homeric tradition with other Irish and Icelandic epic traditions, all of them exemplifying what he calls the virtues of heroic society. This article explores why Macintyre might wish to compare the tradition of Homeric epic and Icelandic saga, concluding that he wishes to defend a more fatalistic and less voluntarist conception of moral action.

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