Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2016
  • Online publication date: December 2016

3 - Morality and modernity


Morality, the morality of modernity

Expressivism is, as we noted at the outset, a metaethical theory, a second order theory about the meaning and use of evaluative and normative expressions. From a NeoAristotelian point of view, the key error of expressivists is not the claim that evaluative and normative judgments must be such as to be able to motivate, that they must be expressive of desires and passions. It is in how they draw the line between, on the one hand, the factual and, on the other, the evaluative and the normative so that it becomes for them an a priori truth that no judgment can be both factual and evaluative. In consequence, in their discussions of evaluation all those empirically grounded judgments about what it is for animals of a given species, including human animals, to flourish or to fail to flourish, judgments about how it is best for this individual or this group to act in these circumstances and about the norms to which she, he, or they must conform, if it is to go well for them, judgments that observation confirms as true or false, disappear from view. In philosophy it is never enough to identify such a mistake as a mistake. It is also necessary to explain how highly intelligent and perceptive thinkers could have come to make such a mistake. As we should have learned from Marx and Nietzsche, we need a sociology and a psychology of philosophical error. How, then, should we NeoAristotelians characterize what we take to be this mistake made by expressivists? It was and is, I shall suggest, the mistake of supposing that what held and holds true of the evaluative and normative judgments of one particular morality, embedded in one particular social and cultural order, the order that they themselves inhabit, holds true of any and every evaluative and normative judgment in all times and al places. Which particular morality was it and is it by which the expressivists were misled? It was and is the morality to which I have given the name ‘Morality’ (Chapter 1, section 1.10), the moral system peculiar to and characteristic of early and late capitalist modernity.