Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue presented a reinterpretation of Aristotelian virtue ethics that is contrasted with the emotivism of modern moral discourse, and provides a moral scheme that can enable a rediscovery and reimagination of a more coherent morality. Since After Virtue’s (AV’s) publication, this scheme has been applied to a variety of activities and occupations, and has been influential in the development of research in accounting ethics. Through a ‘close’ reading of Chaps. 14 and 15 of AV, this paper considers and applies the key concepts of practices, institutions, internal and external goods, the narrative unity of a human life and tradition, and the virtues associated with these concepts. It contributes, firstly, by providing a more accurate and comprehensive application of MacIntyre’s scheme to accounting than that available in the existing literature. Secondly, it identifies areas in which MacIntyre’s scheme supports the existing approach to professional accounting ethics as articulated by the various International Federation of Accountants pronouncements as well as areas in which it provides a critique and challenge to this approach. The application ultimately provides an alternative philosophical perspective through which accounting can be examined and further research into accounting ethics pursued.
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This approach follows Bragues’ (2006) call for greater attention to ‘close’ readings of seminal works in moral philosophy.
Although MacIntyre is not proposing a psychological theory of motivation, there is some similarity between the motivations for pursuing internal and external goods and Deci and Ryan’s (1985) theory of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, where “The most basic distinction is between intrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable, and extrinsic motivation, which refers to doing something because it leads to a separable outcome” (Ryan and Deci 2000, p. 55); however, see also Ryan and Deci’s taxonomy of human motivation (2000, p. 61), where some extrinsic motivations may correspond to the pursuit of some internal goods.
He uses an example of a man gardening. Without understanding his intentions (is he gardening in order to reap vegetables or to please his wife), and the setting (is this part of an annual cycle, or marital expectations), we cannot gain a complete understanding of his behaviour.
Lutz (2012, p. 125) succinctly describes MacIntyre’s concept of tradition as “a final and thorough rejection of individualism”.
MacIntyre’s later work (including Whose Justice? Which Rationality and Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry) pays particular attention to the traditions associated with the practices of ‘rationality’ and ‘moral enquiry’ themselves (see Lutz 2004; Nicholas 2012 for more detailed analyses). See also Knight’s (2008) discussion of MacIntyre’s work as rival to, and extension of other broad traditions in philosophy.
Other pronouncements issued by the IESBA deal with amending particular issues addressed in Parts B and C of the Code (i.e., not the fundamental principles), such as Changes to the Code Addressing Certain Non-Assurance Services Provisions for Audit and Assurance Clients (IESBA 2015). Further guidance provided by the IESBA relates primarily to how the Code should be implemented and interpreted, and does not introduce additional principles or values (IESBA 2010, 2012).
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West, A. After Virtue and Accounting Ethics. J Bus Ethics 148, 21–36 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-016-3018-9
- Accounting ethics
- After Virtue
- Professional ethics
- Virtue ethics