As part of my working vacation, I’ve started reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue. I read it about 25 years ago and remember liking it. I’m liking it even more this time.
In the opening chapters AM tries to make the case that to understand philosophy’s current moral predicament, we have to see its history. This is (was?) a novel notion within the Anglo philosophical tradition that sees the history of ideas as relevant to modern thought as Aristotelian physics is to quantum mechanics. AM looks at one of the more popular and pervasive moral philosophies, emotivism, which is the belief that saying “X is morally good” is the same as “I approve of X. Please do X,” or, more succinctly, “Yay X!” AM takes this notion apart analytically — for instance, emotivism’s approval is a moral approval, so it fails as an explanation of morality — but more importantly wonders why it caught on. He shows, rather brilliantly, that emotivism was dreamed up by philosophers reacting against G.E. Moore’s claim that the moral good is an objective primitive that cannot be further explained. But, says AM, Moore’s philosophy was attractive to people who wanted there to be an objective good to support their subjective views of what’s right and wrong. The emotivists saw that this was the case and concluded that therefore all assertions of moral goodness are merely disguised expressions of subjective approval.
AM does not yet conclude that all moral philosophy must therefore be understood historically. But he’s working toward that, for he wants to understand how philosophical ethics has gone so wrong. Then he’s going to set it right. Brilliant. And fun.
Categories: Uncategorized dw