After Inventor Virtue

In After Virtue, Alasdair MacIntyre describes “emotivism” as the approach to morals that arose in the debris of the failed Enlightenment effort to find a rational basis for morals. Emotivism asserts that there can be no such rational framework and that individuals merely follow what appears “right” to them. From an emotivist perspective

there are only two alternative modes of social life open to us, one in which the free and arbitrary choices of individuals are sovereign and one in which the bureaucracy is sovereign, precisely so that it may limit the free and arbitrary choices of individuals.

The organization asserts its free and arbitrary purposes beyond debate by mere individuals. Individuals will never agree among themselves with regard to what is “right.” Thus, the organization asserts that individuals are moral as they conform to the will of the organization and take on the roles assigned by the organization:

The bifurcation of the contemporary social world into a realm of the organizational in which ends are taken to be given and are not available for rational scrutiny and a realm of the personal in which judgment and debate about values are central factors, but in which no rational social resolution of issues is available, finds its internalization, its inner representation in the relation of the individual self to the roles and characters of social life.

Organizations impose on us the roles we must play to properly serve the organization. We end up with character types of the inventor or entrepreneur as defined by university policy. Technology transfer “training” within a university insists that inventors and entrepreneurs must conform to the university’s definitions of these roles. There is no room for rational arguments made by individuals–because, as emotivism would have it, rational argument with regard to what is “right” to be done cannot possibly arrive at an acceptable resolution. The organization recognizes no rational standard beyond its own assertions. Inventor and entrepreneur become domesticate roles played out in the presence of university administrators.

MacIntyre’s point is that under emotivism neither the individual nor the organization has any foundation to resolve questions of what constitutes virtuous action. What constitutes good behavior, good practice, public good in the case of research findings, whether inventive or not, or valuable or not? An organization’s statement of morals under emotivism ends up being a wordsmithed version of whatever sounds right to administrators–and that moral code will be pleasant compliance and efficiency. Obey without waste, and be nice about it. That’s pretty much what university patent policies say these days. Hopelessly ugly stuff.

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