8 April 2013
A Game of Chess
In After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre, he discusses the metaphor of a child playing a game of chess to help explain his theory on practices, internal goods, external goods, motivation, and virtues. In his example, a child is promised candy for participating in a game of chess each week, regardless of the child’s performance. However, if the child wins the game, which is not an easy feat, the child will be rewarded with extra candy. Though the situation being examined is not complex, it is very successful in presenting MacIntyre’s arguments.
To understand the difference between internal and external goods as defined by MacIntyre, one must first understand the concept of a practice. MacIntyre defines a practice as “any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity,” that results in internal goods being realized, the drive to achieve excellence, and the possibility of external goods. In practices, there is no definitive end goal. The end goal is always extended and a “higher” goal is set. Practices are certain activities that are good in and of themselves and not merely because of the pleasure that they lead to. Internal goods are the qualities of character or the virtues that occur during or in response to an activity. An external reward is something that is gained by performing an activity such as tangible rewards, social prowess, or monetary compensation. All of these things can be gained outside of “practices,” while the internal goods can only be found within practices. In the example that MacIntyre uses, the external reward is candy. The internal rewards are that hopefully the child learns “analytical skills, strategic imagination, and competitive intensity.” In addition, the motivation behind winning diverges from the external nature, and moves towards excelling in the game while honing their internal rewards.
MacIntyre ends his metaphor stating that by the child...