The difficulty that men — and moral philosophers — have encountered in trying ‘to give ethics a foundation’ stems primarily from the mixture of description and advocacy characteristic of moral claims. Emphasis on the prescriptive or advocative functions of moral statements constantly threatens to turn them into arbitrary commands; emphasis on their descriptive content invites disagreement and robs them of their normative force. Moral philosophers, despite Hume, have thus been tempted, consciously or unconsciously, to conflate the descriptive and prescriptive by using such key but unexamined moral concepts as ‘value’, ‘pleasure’, ‘human nature’, etc. The great progress made in moral philosophy in the last fifty years has not led to any convincing solution of its basic problems, but it has enabled us to see much more clearly how these problems arise. Moral philosophy, in this century, has passed through a vital stage of the clarification of issues, of the careful examination of the structure of moral language and the function of moral terms. Karl Marx lived and wrote before this important development took place; virtually all of his disciples have been unable to profit by it.
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