Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Lost without Landmarks. — “Up to the present in everyday discourse the habit of speaking of moral judgments as true or false persists; but the question of what it is in virtue of which a particular moral judgment is true or false has come to lack any clear answer. That this should be so is perfectly intelligible if the historical hypothesis which I have sketched is true: that moral judgments are linguisitic survivals from the practices of classical theism which have lost the context provided by those practices. In that context moral judgments were at once hypothetical and categorical in form. They were hypothetical insofar as they expressed a judgment as to what conduct would be teleologically appropriate for a human being: ‘You ought to do so-and-so, if and since your telos is such-and-such’ or perhaps ‘You ought to do so-and-so, if you do not want your essential desires to be frustrated’. They were categorical insofar as they reported the contents of the universal law commanded by God: ‘You ought to do so-and-so: that is what God’s law enjoins.’ But take away from them that in virtue of which they were hypothetical and that in virtue of which they were categorical and what are they? Moral judgments lose any clear status and the sentences which express them in a parallel way lose any undebateable meaning. Such sentences become available as forms of expression for an emotivist self which lacking the guidance of the context in which they were orginally at home has lost its linguistic as well as its practical way in the world.”

Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London: Duckworth, 2007), p.60.