Non-cognitivism and liberal-individualism : philosophy and ideology in the history of contemporary moral and political life
This thesis is about the character of the non-cognitivist theory of ethics and its practical impact on contemporary moral and political life, It is suggested that non-cognitivism, understood as a distinct style of ethical theorising advanced most notably by Ayer, Stevenson, Hare and Mackie, has both a philosophical character, and an ideological character of a liberal-individualist kind. In the first four chapters the philosophical nature of the non-cognitivist account of ethics is critically examined. In chapters five and six it is argued, following Maclntyre, that there is a need to sketch out the historical context of the emergence of the theory in order to gain a complete understanding of its character. This is undertaken by drawing upon previously unpublished or unavailable material by such thinkers as Duncan-Jones, Barnes and Stevenson. In chapters seven and eight the ideological character of the theory is examined by indicating that philosophy and ideology constitute two logically different forms of understanding. It is suggested that the philosophical arguments advanced within non-cognitivism serve the purpose of giving coherent expression to a presumed ideological liberal-individualist conception of man and his relation to others in the world. Chapters nine and ten considers the implications for contemporary liberal theory of the non-cognitivist dominance of the moral philosophy and political practices of the Western democracies. It is claimed that the attempts of Dunn, Forty and Rawls to justify liberal theory and practice are unsuccessful because non-cognim has effectively undermined the distinction between morality and prudence upon which such a justification is grounded. The conclusion reached is that liberalism is in a state of crisis.