Moral discourse, Joyce says in the second sentence of the preface, is "fundamentally flawed." It is, he thinks, like talk about phlogiston or witches. He goes on, on the next page, to say that:
The whole point of a moral discourse is to evaluate actions and persons with a particular force, and it is exactly this notion of force which turns out to be so deeply troublesome.Maybe it's this notion of moral discourse that leads to all the problems, but I'll try not to jump to too many conclusions. Alice Crary might have something to say about this conception of morality, though.
Fictionalism, he continues, involves using the discourse in question (in this case, moral discourse) but neither asserting nor believing its propositions. (I sense the need for Frege-style judgment-strokes and content-strokes.) The fictionalist uses moral language in something like the way that a story-teller uses sentences that she knows to be untrue (see Frege on Odysseus). It is also, he says, like the use that the Dorze of Ethiopia make of the idea that leopards are Christian animals and observe the fast days of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (information that Joyce got from Dan Sperber's work, apparently). That is, they say they believe this, but they still protect their animals just as much on fast days as on any other day when leopards might threaten them. So they don't believe it in a naive way.
Since this is just the preface I'm talking about I'll offer impressions rather than conclusions. But my impression is: so close and yet so far. Fascinating though.