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Alasdair MacIntyre (1985) on what counts as a practice – and what doesn’t

March 2, 2010

Any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realised in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions to the ends and goods involved, are systematically extended (MacIntyre 1985, 187).

Marian Fitzmaurice (2010) explains:

“So, what counts as a practice? The planting of crops is not a practice, but farming is, as are the enquiries of physics, chemistry, biology and the work of the historian, the musician and the painter. A practice involves standards of excellence and to enter into a practice is to accept these standards and to judge one’s own performance against them. The goods internal to a practice can only be had by involvement in that practice unlike external goods such as money, status and prestige, which can be achieved in many ways. Also, such goods can only be specified in relation to that practice and they can only be identified and recognised by participating in the practice. ”


Fitzmaurice, Marian(2010) ‘Considering teaching in higher education as a practice’, Teaching in Higher Education, 15: 1, 45 — 55.  URL:

MacIntyre, A. 1985. After virtue: A study in moral theory, 2nd ed. London: Duckworth

3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 4, 2014 2:32 pm

    Thanks for this quote that I was trying to hunt down. MacIntyre is, in my view, a giant in moral theory. Ted Spear (Head, Island Pacific School, CANADA)

  2. Pablo permalink
    October 10, 2016 5:59 pm

    So is playing a sport, teaching a language, swimming or reading a book a practice according to MacIntyre?

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