This quote is taking a stance against moral relativism and emotionalism in ethics, asserting that a system of morality based solely on relative emotional values lacks substance, truth, and is merely an illusion.
Moral Relativism: This ethical theory suggests that moral judgments are true or false only relative to some particular standpoint (for instance, a cultural or personal perspective). In this quote, the author seems to disagree with moral relativism, proposing that a moral system should be based on something more absolute or universal.
Emotionalism in Ethics: This term suggests that moral judgments are determined solely by emotions. Emotions are indeed influential in our moral decision-making; however, basing morality solely on emotion may lead to subjective, inconsistent, and potentially harmful moral decisions, as emotions can be fleeting, irrational, or self-centered.
The quote argues that a moral system based on relative emotional values is an “illusion” and “vulgar,” implying that it lacks depth, consistency, and a reliable foundation. It suggests that morality should be grounded in something more stable, consistent, and rational.
Many ethical frameworks emphasize this idea. For instance:
Deontological Ethics: most famously associated with Immanuel Kant, asserts that morality is grounded in reason and certain inviolable duties, rather than emotions or consequences.
Virtue Ethics: associated with Aristotle, emphasizes the importance of stable character traits (virtues) in moral decision-making, rather than solely focusing on individual actions or emotions.
This quote could also be interpreted as a critique of a society overly influenced by fleeting emotional states, such as might be induced by social media “outrage culture.”