Circles of Commitment

Alasdair MacIntyre’s concept of a good internal to a practice implies a system of many goods. These goods are not derivative of one another; they exist independently. But some are subordinate to others.

Say you are a carpenter. Then you are committed to excellence in carpentry. But if you are a father, then you are also committed to being a good parent. Sometimes these goods come into conflict—when a project requires a lot of your time in order to see it through to completion, but your daughter needs help on her homework. Most people would agree that being a good carpenter should be subordinate to the requirements of being a good father. But that doesn’t mean that you always prioritizing your duties as a father over your duties as a carpenter. Part of your duties as a father, after all, involve making a living so that you can provide for your children. Figuring out how you set your priorities in each specific situation you face requires Aristotle’s phronesis, Aquinas’ prudentia; wisdom in practical affairs.

All goods in your life are subordinate to your commitment to being a good person on the whole—or should be. And Aristotle would argue that the highest good is the good of the polis, something which the modern individualist bristles at.

The book I’m writing focuses on the relationship between your commitments to the good of your particular line of work, the prudent good of making a living, and the commitment to having a good life as a whole.

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