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The Emotivist Approach To Commencement Addresses

A reader e-mails from his coffee shop:

Earlier today, I was musing on your post about how the “tender conscience” of students has caused administrators to disinvite various commencement speakers. Sure, there’s an element of political correctness involved. But I was thinking about why administrators cave so quickly. What institutional commitment are they guarding, beyond ideological purity. And it occurred to me that, under the conditions of an emotivist regime, there is no real confidence that disagreements about questions of justice or the common good can be discussed rationally.

So, while sipping my beverage, I ran across this passage in Tracey Rowland’s Culture and the Thomist Tradition after Vatican II:

“MacIntyre’s indictment of the culture of modernity is founded in part on his argument that emotivist theories and doctrines actually govern the practices of our political, legal, commercial and, in many instances, health and educational institutions, and, further, that the practices associated with these institutions lack any such virtue-requiring and virtue-engendering capacities. On the contrary, they are merely ‘legitimated’ by an emotivist ideology that has two characteristic elements: ‘it works to conceal the features of particular conflicts, of particular contestable concepts and situations, of particular unpredictabilities, and it does this by working to conceal conflict, contestability and unpredictability as such’. It hides from vision the ‘gap between the meaning of moral expressions and the use to which they are put’.”

The first quote is from A. MacIntyre, ‘Social Science Methodology as the Ideology of Bureaucratic Authority’, Through the Looking Glass: Epistemology and the Confl ict of Enquiry, M. W. Falco (ed.), Washington, DC: University Press of America, 1979, p. 50.

The second is from After Virtue, p. 66.

I think this insight is more satisfactory than the charge of mere political correctness. In fact, it illumines the power of PC concerns.

Thoughts, readers? I’m about to be driving for a while, so I’ll be slow to post your responses.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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