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The Christmas Conspiracy!




"'. . . that He may teach us about His ways
And that we may walk in His paths.'
For from Zion will go forth the Law
Even the Word of God from Jerusalem
Micah 4:2


Another noncognitivist reply to the metaethical question has been that of R. M. Hare who heads the school of imperativism or prescriptivism. According to this line of thought moral utterances are really veiled commands; hence ethical language has a directive or commending function. The prescriptivist differs from the emotivist in that he is concerned with the illocutionary "speech-act" which moral utterances perform rather than their perlocutionary effect. Prescriptivism is afflicted with much of the same problem facing emotivism since they are both noncognitivist answers. The grounds for ethical prescriptions and the meaning of moral principles have been abandoned, leaving the central concerns of morality behind and future considerations of ethical direction closed to any discussion or investigation. Furthermore, both emotivism and imperativism dissolve any distinctiveness which moral language once had, for the central functions of moral [298] utterance on the noncognitivists’ view are also performed by other kinds of language which are completely indifferent to questions of morality. So not only is ethics undiscussable, it is simply not a separate discipline or concern of man. The imperative intrinsic in a moral utterance does not even have the arrogance of authority which is customarily associated with ethical commandments; imperativism reduces ethics to simple personal commendations or advice. That is, according to imperativism the veiled command inherent in moral utterance does not have the force of universally valid, authoritative command dictated by objective moral principle; rather, it is merely a personal expression of a desire to have others conform to a subjectively approved course of action. So although imperativism might seem to offer more hope for the ethical endeavor than emotivism, it actually leaves ethics as rootless, subjective, and nonobligatory as emotivism. This approach also fails to do justice to the seriousness with which people use their ethical language; they seem to imply that true obligation attaches to their moral judgments so that they are offering something stronger than a recommendation to others. The sheer relativism inherent in the imperativist’s position is exhibited in his asserting that the descriptive meaning of "good" or any other ethical language can be completely different in every case of its usage; the only thing which is constant is the directive element. No objective qualities can be made the criteria for the application of "good." When pressed for justification for his moral utterances, the moralist cannot appeal to any inherent value (i.e., "goodness") in his recommended behavior; he could never say that it was virtuous to act in a particular way but only that it was imperative! If the prescriptivist supported his utterances by appealing to ascertainable values he would be forsaking his position, and if he said that a person should act in the way recommended because it was "good" (or any other valuational adjective) he would be reasoning in a vicious circle (e.g., "Jones is commanded to be truthful because it is command-[299] ed"). The imperativist can tell us what we should do, but he cannot tell us why. In the long run the imperativist even fails to offer guidance, for in situations of moral complexity or where there are conflicting recommendations, reasons cannot be urged for or against the given attitude of any moralist. Imperativism is another reversion to the nonethic of an ethic of inclination. All that which is customarily of distinctive moral interest has been eliminated from the picture.  

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Christmas Conspiracy


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