Moralities Are a Sign-Language of the Affects

Social Philosophy & Policy 30 (January 2013): 237-258

22 Pages Posted: 9 Jun 2012 Last revised: 16 Mar 2016

Date Written: June 8, 2012


The essay offers an interpretation and defense of Nietzsche's claim that moral judgments are "symptoms" or "sign-languages" of the affects. I argue that (1) Nietzsche has a non-cognitivist view of "basic" affective or emotional responses of inclination and aversion (which are the products of "drives"), but that he recognizes the role that culture plays in how the non-cognitive responses are experienced by agents; (2) the role of culture in explaining moral judgment is compatible with what I have called Nietzsche's Doctrine of Types, and that while Nietzsche thought about this in Lamarckian terms, the plausibility of the view can survive the demise of Lamarckianism; (3) Nietzsche's view of moral judgments wins support from the connection between moral judgment and motivation; anti-realism about value; and recent work in empirical psychology.

Keywords: Nietzsche, morality, non-cognitivism, emotions, metaethics

Suggested Citation

Leiter, Brian, Moralities Are a Sign-Language of the Affects (June 8, 2012). Social Philosophy & Policy 30 (January 2013): 237-258, Available at SSRN:

Brian Leiter (Contact Author)

University of Chicago ( email )

1111 E. 60th St.
Chicago, IL 60637
United States

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