Finally I can respond to Noah's very sharp and smartly reasoned post.
Noah thinks the charge of emotivism can be overused. He's right. He is also right that honor registers in the realm of feeling, that an opposite of honor is shame, and that shame is also felt. And he is right to imply strongly that it is right to feel the honor and shame that redound to one as a result of one's behavior.
But Noah rises to an unhelpfully high level of abstraction by casting my argument in terms of "banish[ing] feelings entirely as a source of value." I read that phrase aloud and I hear Max Weber lite. He did enough already to set us down the perilous road of separating facts from 'values.' I still do not know, unless I am walking through Wal-Mart, exactly what a value is. But I am not rude enough to stop the conversation there, and I think that specifically in Noah's terms he means the following:
I can appreciate the suspicion of feeling as a primary source of value (though neither am I convinced that that suspicion amounts to a knock-down argument against); I’m not at all ready to jettison feeling as a guide to judgement. And I don’t think Mr. Emotivism meant to do so either; quite the opposite.
I am more suspicious of talk of 'primary sources of value' than I am of feelings. Talk of 'feeling as a guide to judgment,' on the other hand, is something I can actually deliberate about without taking a walk through the set of What Dreams May Come, and I'm glad Noah cast it in those terms because I wholly agree that feeling must -- as in we have no choice -- factor into our deliberations, judgments, and actions. And I agree that MacIntyre agrees.
But here's the catch. Feelings can impel us toward and through deliberation, judgment, and action. But they can also shut down and steer us away from thinking, deciding, and doing certain things. Feelings can motivate, and supply us with the resources to achieve, a practice of self-conscious denial that can range from the very simple to the highly elaborate. Feelings can lead us to the conclusion that genocide is happening in Darfur but in the end it's okay that we're not doing anything about it. Maybe this is true -- maybe it withstands the test of fully reasoned thought -- but that doesn't at all mean that anyone who arrives at that conflicted conclusion by any means is equally correct in process or outcome. Feelings can lead us to privilege the way events or actions or nonactions make us feel over what they actually are.
And this leads me to closely and carefully challenge Noah's suggestion that honor cannot be possessed "in an objective sense." Strict as I am about 'sense' language I prefer to say that honor is objective. I know this sounds outrageous to a lot of people, so I will restrict myself for now to saying that it is objective in a very narrow fashion. I submit that it is objectively dishonorable to crawl around naked and sharing a pig trough with porcine companions. Of course on some flourishing alien planet there may be some highly significant waiver applicable to some ceremony where naked pig food eating is a trial of great honor. Indeed in an African culture I read about at some point this semester the coming of age ritual involves ritually receiving the abuse of the tribe. But we need to be nimble enough and honest enough to recognize, sociologically speaking, that when transgressions are permitted they do not necessarily cease to be transgressions. Nowhere is there a better case of the truth of this than war. Anywhere there is civilization murder is not honorable. Anywhere there are people murder generally and characteristically causes guilt and shame. But war waives some of the rules pertaining to murder.
The reason why I raise this prickly point is because what I really want to claim is that honor is objective only insofar as guilt has a minimal objectivity. We all recognize that people who feel no guilt are not wholly persons, that there is something radically defective about them. Surely many things can be crimes, and not all things that are crimes in one place at one time are crimes in others. We can be very historicist about the nature of crime and still admit that crime -- culpable wrongdoing -- is an objective thing however the contents might vary through history. Certain regularities emerge. But now I want to emphasize that shame and guilt are two different things. Someone might, for example, do the right thing in a way that causes them to appear to have done the wrong thing; that appearance brings great shame upon them while, at the same time, they (rightly) feel no guilt. There are complex variations on this theme. But if MacIntyre is right that all moral dilemmas can ultimately be resolved, even if at great cost and pain, then it is quite possible to encounter situations in which you will come out with zero guilt and some amount of shame. It is along these lines that I see objectivity in guilt as compared with the greater subjectivity of shame.
This is important because the honor/shame dichotomy that Noah sets up is not inaccurate but is also incomplete. Innocence/guilt overlays it. We recognize this in the idea of defending a woman's honor, for example. And if you accept this basic distinction, you can follow my line of thought to the possibility that -- just as someone can aptly feel shame but no guilt -- one can inaptly feel honor while guilty. In fact, by lifting the analysis to the abstract level of feelings as 'a source of value,' it becomes hard to recognize the importance of the distinction I am making: that we can use feelings of honor to prevent us from deliberating over whether or how we are guilty, passing a judgment in that regard, and then acting on it.
Now my worry over Huckabee comes into focus. I'm going to lay out some hypotheticals to explain. It may be the case, for instance, that staying in Iraq as a matter of strategic fact is not a good idea. Or it may be the case that staying in Iraq is not good as a matter of moral fact -- on the basis that most Iraqis want us to leave, or that we killed a lot of innocent Iraqis, or that we're wasting our national blood and treasure, or plenty of other theories. It isn't decisive to my analysis whether or not leaving in Iraq is the right thing to do strategically or morally or practically or whatever. But what is decisive is that by declaring the matter settled simply by deeming it dishonorable to leave -- with the only possible implication being that, 'in an objective sense', ending a war like Iraq on terms like those that would exist if we left is definitionally dishonorable -- it is precisely the process of judgment that is being disabled or severely crippled.
If we characterize feelings abstractly as 'sources of value', and judgment as something feelings can 'guide' us about, rather than guide us to, then we hamper our ability to recognize that the Huckabee argument, though possibly arriving at the right answer, does so in a dangerously vague and possibly mendacious way. Instead of sharing a deliberation about what honor is with regard to our presence and behavior in Iraq, arriving at a judgment, and acting it out, we foreclose deliberation, fail to make a true judgment, and continue our behavior without having to risk the pain of encountering dilemmas, contradictions, and crises created by any contradiction or guilt that we share. This would be a great misfortune.
Specific to Iraq, there is another layer here. It may be dishonorable to remain in Iraq even if in the long run we end up helping a lot of Iraqis whose lives, at least collectively or nationally speaking, we upset severely. But the Huckabee argument makes posing this question impossible, unthinkable. Even if you want to completely subjectivize honor, this possibility remains. On the other hand, the guilt of remaining in Iraq may be greater than the guilt of leaving. But this possibility also has to go unconsidered. Why? How? By an appeal not to honor, which requires a plausible and eventually persuasive public account of what honor is, but to 'our sense of honor,' which is some kind of curious phantom that has all the trenchant meaninglessness of the safe punt into abstraction that characterizes 'values' talk. We don't have to explain to ourselves what 'our sense of honor' actually is, because it can magically both vary wildly in radical subjectivity and unite us all together. We can use feelings to avoid an entire, and entirely crucial, exercise of politics. Regardless of how you feel or think about the Iraq war, this is really a colossal and upsetting failure of America. If you can say one thing about the neocons it's that many of them have the courage to keep putting forward actual arguments about why their policies are good ones. Unfortunately their arguments are not as persuasive as one might hope. But we would all do ourselves a service to recognize that the passions can compel us to act as well as become resources for us to avoid thinking about, talking about, deciding about, and doing things about circumstances of ours that we'd rather not trouble ourselves about too deeply.