Modern ethical theory has experienced a resurgence of interest in the virtues. Long relegated to the ancient and medieval past, virtue theory is now considered by many to be a viable alternative to the otherwise dominant Kantian and Utilitarian ethical theories. Alasdair Maclntyre is a central figure in this movement, whose work forms an expanding yet consistent and influential project to address fundamental issues in ethical theory and American culture. However, many of his ideas were anticipated by John Dewey, who also has a great deal to say about the virtues in a moral life. This aspect of Dewey's work has been too much overlooked. His ethics is radical in many ways and difficult, but it is clear that he holds the virtues in human conduct to be a key element in the development of character and in the larger progress of moral inquiry. This book offers, as it were, a critique of Maclntyre by Dewey that allows these two philosophers to converse about the nature and origins of the virtues and their importance for living a good life.
Along the way, several other points of comparison become evident, especially their views on human practices, the nature of the self, a conception of human flourishing, moral inquiry, and the value of liberalism in the modern world. Stephen Carden argues that Dewey has the more comprehensive view of the virtues and that a close comparison of their ideas reveals several significant weaknesses in Maclntyre's position.