Contemporary moral debate is incapable of resolution, because modern society has no way to adjudicate competing moral claims. Moral positions commonly draw on vastly different moral traditions, but the positions are fragmentary, as if the disputants were relying on hazy memories of particular moral systems, memories that provided the words but not the substance of those systems. The interminable argument over war might pay homage to the Aristotelian tradition with the insistence on the part of one disputant that a nuclear world should make everyone a pacifist. Yet a Machiavellian might affirm that weapons of mass destruction are needed as a deterrent. A Marxist might maintain that wars of liberation in the Third World are indeed ethically justified. There can be no reconciliation of the positions because each is part of a different historical stream and context. Similarly, the argument that equal opportunity for everyone means government intervention owes a debt to the tradition of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Still, that position cannot be reconciled with the tradition of Adam Smith, that free enterprise means lack of government restraints on private practice.
What is worse, according to MacIntyre, is that if emotivism is universally true (that is, if all moral arguments are nothing but the expression of individual feelings), then the appeal to any ethical tradition is simply a power play on the part of a disputant. Yet emotivism, which substitutes personal...
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