Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name


Degree Program

Political Science


Political Science

Major Professor

Lyle Downing

Second Advisor

Robert Thigpen

Third Advisor

Andreas Maislinger


Alasdair Macintyre asserts in After Virtue that contemporary moral discourse is only arbitrary assertion of the will. Appeals to reasoned arguments have been replaced by expressions of preference, attitude and feeling-- in short, by "emotivism." Macintyre locates this moral breakdown in the Enlightenment philosophers' failed attempt to replace Aristotelian teleology with a rational justification for morality.

Macintyre's analysis fails because he does not show whose interests are served through the assertion of arbitrary supposed will or whose interests were served when "objective" standard of the Middle the Ages prevailed. He does not acknowledge the preeminent role the material relations of production and exchange in the construction of a society's moral standards.

A class analysis suggests that emotivism originated in the overthrow of feudal society by the newly developing industrial class of free traders. The concept of the "free individual" facilitated the organization of production on the basis of wage-labour. The ensuing class struggle led to the dominance of emotivism in contemporary moral discourse.

Macintyre's revised version of the Aristotelian concept of the telos cannot establish a rational basis for morality. Without structural changes designed to eliminate class divisions, emotivism cannot be supplanted. It can only be suppressed by means of instruments such as Macintyre's version of the telos. It is because Macintyre fails to analyze emotivism as the product of class struggle that he advises us to prepare for "the new dark ages which are already upon us" (Macintyre, After Virtue, hereinafter referred to as AV, p. 263).


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