Over the next several days, you will probably tire of us typing the same two words over and over.  Those words are “Alasdair” and “MacIntyre.”  What can we say?  Forty years after he wrote them, the words and ideas in After Virtue continue to resonate, perhaps now more than ever.

While MacIntyre’s critique of the Enlightenment and the corresponding collapse in morality are vitally important (and will be addressed in these pages in the next couple of days), After Virtue’s true genius is in the author’s depiction of the consequences of this collapse.  Among the most notable and serious of these consequences is the devolution of morality to a state of emotive expression, a condition in which feelings and sensations are elevated above objective reality and traditional conceptions of right and wrong, good and evil, etc.  MacIntyre wrote that emotivism is the “doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.”  He continued:

Factual judgments are true or false; and in the realm of fact there are rational criteria by means of which we may secure agreement as to what is true and what is false. But moral judgments, being expressions of attitude or feeling, are neither true nor false; and agreement in moral judgment is not to be secured by any rational method, for there are none. It is to be secured, if at all, by producing certain non-rational effects on the emotions or attitudes of those who disagree with one. We use moral judgments not only to express our own feelings and attitudes, but also precisely to produce such effects in others.

What MacIntyre is saying here is that there is a difference between factual judgment and moral judgment, between simple fact and moral emotivism.  In our society today, emotivism is the dominant moral doctrine.  And that, in turn, means that objective reality, which is to say, simple, basic facts, are overwhelmed and subsumed by feelings and attitudes of moral interpretation.

We were reminded of this the other day, as we undertook our review of the ESG news of the week (so you don’t have to! You’re welcome).  One story, in particular, caught our eye.  It’s an interview by CNBC’s Leslie Picker in the Delivering Alpha feature.  Her subject last week was a woman named Eileen Murray, who is the former co-CEO of Ray Dalio’s Bridgewater Associates and the current chairwoman of the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).  FINRA is the private organization that is (nonetheless) empowered by law to be the securities industry’s guard dog.  It is the successor organization to the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD), the people who administer your Series 7 and 63 and related exams.  FINRA’s job is, by its own description, “to protect America’s investors by making sure the broker-dealer industry operates fairly and honestly.“

Murray had, apparently, been a skeptic of ESG but has changed her mind, insisting that her only objection has always been the fact that government isn’t involved enough in the effort.  She now believes that only the collusion cooperation of government and business can solve the world’s problems:

It’s complicated. And you know, it’s evolving. So people say, “Oh, it’s too complicated. We can’t deal with it.” Well, 20 years ago, we had a lot of changes in credit exposure reporting and people thought that was very complicated. Same thing with trading analytics. So I don’t believe that this is so complicated, that smart people can’t come to solutions. But I think it’s going to take regulators, business, and educators to deal with this. And it’s an ecosystem problem. One company cannot do this alone and that’s why I think we need government and regulators. So my skepticism is not about the call to action, my skepticism is, are we doing enough? Or are we going to wait till this is a pandemic to deal with?


Fortunately, Picker didn’t understand this either.  So she asked:

Picker: What do you mean by that - “wait until this is a pandemic to deal with?”

Murray: Take DE&I - how many years has that been around? 

Picker: Diversity, equity and inclusion...

Murray: Diversity we’ve been talking about since I was in my 20s, which was quite a quite a long ways ago. But you know, when I first started working, diversity, it was like, 0.5% of the senior people were women and today it’s 17%. And you know Leslie, I don’t know if I should do the happy dance or cry. But we just haven’t made enough progress. And I believe had regulations been more involved, that we would be further along on diversity. I don’t think it’s just about diversity. I think it’s also about inclusion to really be successful and so I think we both know that. One of the things for example, what the NASDAQ just did, I’m not talking as the chair of FINRA, but as Eileen Murray, individual, I applaud them….

[T]hey’re basically saying, comply or disclose. So you either comply or you disclose. Well, what’s wrong with that? What’s the criticism about that? I just think without those kinds of movements, we’re not going to make progress. And I think history demonstrates that….I think without disclosure and transparency, it’s going to continue as it is with people focused on the urgent, people focused on short term profits, and not looking at the long term impact to their company, or socially.


The first thing to note here is that Murray is wrong – or she is lying.  We’re not sure which.  It’s not “comply or disclose.”  It’s comply or be DE-Frickin’-LISTED.  You do what Nasdaq wants, or they delist you.  If you can’t see “what’s wrong with that,” then you’re not looking very hard – especially, since delisting requires SEC approval, making this, by extension, a GOVERNMENT POLICY.

The second thing to note is that Murray prattles on about how it's important to “make progress” on diversity, equity, and inclusion.  She may be right about that.  She may understand the issues compelling diversity better than we do.  She may be the smartest person in the world when it comes to the importance of “making progress” on these matters.  But that has NOTHING whatsoever to do with her job, with the SEC’s job, with Nasdaq’s job, or anything else for that matter.  It is entirely unrelated to the function of any securities regulatory body, public or private.  It’s a social goal, which may be admirable in and of itself, but has zero to do with the “ecosystem” she’s a part of and is discussing here.

The final thing to note is that she has decided that diversity, equity, and inclusion are important for her ecosystem to regulate for no other reason than she thinks they’re nifty ideas.  She doesn’t even bother to cite the garbage social science that Nasdaq and other diversity radicals claim supports their diversity agendas.  What’s wrong with that, she asks?  What is the criticism about?  I “believe” regulations would have helped increase diversity.  Yada, yada.

NONE of this is “factual.”  None of this can be proven “true” or “false.”  These are all expressions of her attitudes and feelings.  She feels that greater diversity is crucial but achieving it is no big deal.  She senses and suspects that this, that, and the other thing are important and should simply be conceded, without any substantive examination of the arguments underpinning the theory.  Her understanding of the institutions involved here is simplistic, and her beliefs about what those institutions should and should not do are entirely emotive.

MacIntyre warned that the emotive expression of values would create dissension, confusion, conflict, and social dissolution.  And believe us: If the head of the organization tasked with monitoring and enforcing the “ethics” of the securities industry is openly and unapologetically is disposed to emotivism, then the industry cannot survive for long as anything other than a weapon to be used for the enforcement of “feelings” at the expense of facts.


Comments coming soon