After Virtue: Notes for Ch. 1 and 2


Notes for Chapters 1 and 2

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Notes on After Virtue by Alasdair MacIntyre

Chapter One: A Disquieting Suggestion

Synopsis: MacIntyre opens up with the suggestion that the entirety of moral discourse today is like that of a purely aesthetic manipulation of symbols without and understanding of of the relationship between the signifiers of moral discourse and their signifieds (see de Saussure, Course in General Linguistics). Just as if all the scientific knoweldge in say physics were lost, but we kept the theory of relativity, we could speak of ‘relativity’, but not truly know anything about it. This is disquieting to him.

I. We have lost the actual referred in the discourse over morality

A. The beliefs presupposed in discussing these unbound signifieds are not understood

B. The terms would appear arbitrary, nonsensical

C. (Analytic) Philosophy, as a tool which presupposes the sensibility of that being discussed, as a language of meta-discourse, could not reveal the error.

D. Phenomenological philosophies (Hegel) could not reveal the error either (same trap as in C)

II. The current state of loss is the end product of three historical phases

A. A period when natural science flourished

B. When it was corrupted

C. When it was restored in ill repair (like in our corrupted-science universe)

III. The historical evaluation will not be neutral. We must take a normative stance and in Hegel and Collingwood we will find our tools.

IV. If we have in fact entered into an era of non-discuss-ability (of Simulation), then we must be able to mark the shift in the academic study of history; unless the breakage occurred before the birth of the discipline - in which the very language to discuss the crisis would be gone.

Chapter Two: The Nature of Moral Disagreement Today and the Claims of Emotivism

Synopsis: MacIntyre asserts that moral argument today has fallen into a state characterized my interminability. He believes that this interminability is development and is not the effect of moral discussing having always been interminable by definition (which is the philosophy of Emotivism). MacIntyre goes to great lengths to show it to be a theary of use, not meaning, and show it to be false. MacIntyre cannot abide this philosophy as it would render the project of this book pointless.

I. The nature of disagreement today’s most striking character is its nseeming interminability. the ability to achieve moral agreement is gone

A. The interminability is characterized by 3 characteristics:

  1. Conceputal Incommensurability (p. 8). While logical, the conclusions can be made to follow from the premises, the premises cannot be evaluated objectively against each other. Lacking objective criteria, one cannot publicaly advocate in a convincing manner.

  2. These arguments purport to be impersonal, thus rational, thus appearing to a rational rubric

  3. Aside: We claim incommensurability, yet we also claim an appeal to a rational order? Surely these claims are antithetical!?

  4. We take moral discussion out of historical context and ‘flatten’ it into our time without reference to the culture in which this term flourished

II. Moral Argument has always been of this type and all discussions on the matter interminable. This is the philosophy of Emotivism.

A. The claims of Emotivism

  1. Emotivism is a philosophy about the meaning of the sentences which are used to make moral judgments (p12).

  2. All moral judgments are nothing but statements of preference akin to “I think this is good” is equal to “I prefer this to other options. There is an equivalence between “X gives me pleasure” and “X is good” as they both mean the same thing.

C. Emotivism fails as a philosophy of meaning

  1. Due to circularity. A person says:

“X is good” - This is a statement of approval.

“What kind of approval?”

“Moral approval.”

  1. As a theory of meaning, tries to equate two utterances that have distinctive functions. When I say “X is good”, I am appealing to a higher force, an impartial higher appeal.

  2. As it fails to address the preceeding discussion, it must be incomplete as a theory of meaning

  3. It asserts that sentences reveal their meaning plainly. This is not so, the meaning of a schoolteacher shouting “Seven and Seven is forty-nine!” means nothing about arithmetical fact, but means, “Study Harder.”

  4. It obscures use and meaning utterly

  5. Attitudes are not expressed by meaning, they are expressed by use.

D. The claims of Emotivism Part II: Emotivism’s tenets (G.E. Moore)

  1. Good is indefinable based on a convention or an intuition. ‘X is good” is similar to ‘X is yellow’. By what grounds is this truly ‘yellow’ or ‘good’ ?

  2. Moral judgments hinge on utilitarian evaluation. The most ‘good’ is ‘best’ based on these intuitions

  3. The ‘best’ pursuit is conteplation of the beautiful and friendship

E. MacIntyre attacks these tenets

  1. There is no logical necessity between the 3, they are merely 3 assertions. One can be an intuitionist and not be a utilitarian.

  2. D1 is false and 2/3 are highly contentious.

  3. This is rhetoric to justif a pre-subscribed belief

  4. the ability to identify “better” moral choices, as is demanded by the utilitarian model, falls apart. Consider X is in love with Y but Y is non-reciprocal and in love with Z. What is the better resolution?

  5. The struucture of emotivism precludes its own elucidation, the criteria of the best past is merely an assertion of a preference.

  6. Emontivism is a theory of use endemic to a certain historical period.

F. Emotivism is a philosophy of decline. It is ancillary to

Chapter 1, RN II, C.

G. Emotivism denies that there ever could have been a period that one could have spoken objectively about morality.

H. Emotivism has no power in terms of analytic philosophy but it does have incredible cultural power

  1. Emotivism was rejected in terms of analytic moral philosophy - nonetheless it pervades

a. the terminus of justification always winds up at some fundamental evaluation of personal preference.

b. (p21, “Secondly”) Analytic Philosophy with an emotivist explanation of morality can achieve no consensus on its mechanics

c. Analytic philosophy is a study of meaning not use.

d. There exist analytic philosophies that accept an Emotivist stance despite this.

  1. Emotivism is incompatible with Nietzschean and Sartrian morality.

a. They were condemning conventions of morality and stating that it’s method of creation was bourgeois, or infected by Christianity, not that it was impossible to attain.

b. N. and S’s models were both negative dialectic and not particularly enlightening.

  1. If Emotivist thinking is embedded in all of our institutions, then we may not be able to discuss the problem at all.

III. Tasks

A. Describe the lost morality of the past

B. Answer do we live in a terminally ill Emotivist cultural milieu?

Processes and Sketches

Working out An Error in Equivalence

Why did the Emotivists fail to ask why

  1. “I disapprove”

  2. “That is bad” <==> “I disapprove”

are not truly the same? OR Why did they not see that “this is bad” has more “force” ? Their focus on the equivalence clouded the force of utterance 2. the two utterances mean the same, but their usage shows them to be, in fact, differenct.


I am referring to the principle work of Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, which provides many rich metaphors for the discussion of a system that manipulates only symbols - not meanings. I’m very intererested in his metaphor of the desert of the real in terms of this discussion.