MacIntyre and Kovesi on the Nature of Moral Concepts

In Alan Tapper & Brian Mooney (eds.), Meaning and Morality: Essays on the Philosophy of Julius Kovesi. Leiden: Brill. pp. 123-37 (2012)
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Julius Kovesi was a moral philosopher contemporary with Alasdair MacIntyre, and dealing with many of the same questions as MacIntyre. In our view, Kovesi’s moral philosophy is rich in ideas and worth revisiting. MacIntyre agrees: Kovesi’s Moral Notions, he has said, is ‘a minor classic in moral philosophy that has not yet received its due’. Kovesi was not a thinker whose work fits readily into any one tradition. Unlike the later MacIntyre, he was not a Thomistic Aristotelian, nor even an Aristotelian. He saw his viewpoint as Platonic, or perhaps more accurately as Socratic. His writings, unlike MacIntyre’s, have little to say about justice. However, Kovesi did offfer a theory of practical reason. His main contention was that all human social life embodies a set of concepts that govern and guide that life, concepts without which that life would be impossible. These include our moral concepts. For Kovesi, moral concepts are not external to, but constitutive of social life in any of its possible forms. But in the course of his argument he also developed a way of thinking about how concepts work, which we term ‘conceptual functionalism’, and which we will elucidate.

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Alan Tapper
Curtin University, Western Australia


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