Metaethics Part 3

3. Emotivism and the Rejection of Non-Naturalism
3.1 Introduction to Ayer’s Emotivism

According to Ayer moral judgments are mere expressions of emotions or feelings and don’t beliefs that could be true or false.

What does he mean with “belief” or “mere emotions” exactly? “I don’t like apples”. Do I believe that apples taste bad? If we analyze the distinction between non-cognitivists and cognitivists we’ll realize that the relevant difference between them is the following: Cognitivists believe that moral statements like “murder is wrong” are mind-independent, whereas non-cognitivists think they are mind-dependent, just like normal preferences. That is the important distinction. E.g. I see no (meaningful) difference between weak cognitivism and non-cognitivism. Please enlighten me, if there is one.

ETA: Just read the Stanford-Encyclopedia entry on cognitivism/non-cognitivism. Here is the difference between weak/subjective cognitivism and non-cognitivism:

1.3 Contrast with Cognitivist Subjectivism

It is useful to contrast non-cognitivism with one particular variety of cognitivism in order to more clearly present what the non-cognitivist is claiming. Various versions of cognitivist subjectivism equate moral properties such as rightness with the property of being approved of by some person or group. To be right is to be approved of by the speaker, or the speaker and her friends, or the members of the speaker’s society, or everybody. On many such views, when a speaker says something is right she is in fact saying that she approves, or that she and those like her approve. In one very good sense she would then have expressed her approval — she said that she approved or that she and her friends did. And, if approval is a conative rather than a cognitive attitude, we might say that she expressed a non-cognitive attitude. But this by itself is not sufficient to make the position non-cognitivist. This variety of subjectivism agrees with one of the positive non-cognitivist theses (that moral utterances conventionally express non-cognitive attitudes), but it does not agree with either of the essential negative non-cognitivist claims (that the judgments don’t express beliefs and/or that they are not truth-apt). According to this subjectivist theory, the moral utterance expressed the speaker’s belief that she approves of the action and this has truth conditions which are also the truth conditions of the sentence uttered. When a non-cognitivist says that a sentence conventionally expresses an attitude, she means to contrast the mode of expression with saying that one has the attitude. A simple example gets the idea across. One can express dislike of something by saying that one dislikes it. This is the way that a cognitivist subjectivist thinks we express moral attitudes. But one can also express dislike of something by booing or hissing. This is much like the way some non-cognitivists think we express moral attitudes. The latter way of expressing an attitude is different from the way cognitivist subjectivists think we express moral attitudes because it expresses the attitude without saying that we have the attitude.

Needless to say that this difference is of no relevance and mostly about definitions. Taboo your words, and let your beliefs pay rent and stuff…

3.2 The Rejection of Non-Naturalism

For Moore, ‘good’ denotes a simple, unanalysable, non-natural property, which is not part of the causal order. So how can we discern what is good and what is not? Moore’s says through “intuition” which seems like a mysterious answer to a mysterious question. Non-naturalism has therefore grave metaphysical and epistemological problems.

3.3 Problems with Emotivism

Jesus, I know why I gave up studying philosophy. Even analytical philosophy is mostly concentrated garbage. Most arguments rely on hidden background assumptions that are just plain wrong or simply confused.

Here’s a quote:

“3.5(a) Problem I: The implied error problem
Emotivism is a form of projectivism: when we use ‘is wrong’ in an
evaluative judgement, for example, when we judge that murder is
wrong, we are treating ‘wrong’ as if it is a predicate akin to the nonevaluative
predicates of our language. In other words, we view
wrongness as a property of the act of murder. Thus we take ‘murder
is wrong’ to be on a par with ‘gold is a metal’ in the sense that both
‘wrong’ and ‘metal’ are, as it were, genuine predicates, picking out
genuine features of things. However, according to emotivism, in
the case of ‘murder is wrong’ this is inaccurate: and what we are                                        doing when we treat wrongness as a genuine feature of things is
projecting our sentiments or emotions onto the world. Wrongness is not
really a property of things in the world: rather it is something we
project onto the world when we form an attitude or sentiment
towards it.

…The problem for the emotivist is to explain how this projection can be
anything other than a mistake or an error. If we speak and think as if
there is a property of goodness, although there actually is not, why
isn’t our speaking and thinking in that way simply flawed?”

((Wait a second. Firstly, the property “red” is also simply projected into the world. There is nothinginherentlyred in the world. Just light-waves of different wavelengths. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t meaningfully say that we perceive the apple as red.

Just because  “disgustingness” isn’t an inherent property of spinach, it nevertheless makes sense to hate spinach.

I don’t know if Miller actually understands that our model of the world is multi-leveled while there’s only one unique reality.

Secondly, even if we’re making constant errors when talking about morality, isn’t that exactly what emotivists believe anyway?))

Ah, after reading some other parts of the book I now realize that Miller just wanted to point out that emotivism entails that our morals are mind-dependent. Wow. He needed like 10 pages for doing so. Congrats, I agree.

As I said, this is only a problem for emotivism if you’re a moral realist/cognitivist, but that’s like saying that atheism is false because that would mean there is no god and that’s too bad.

This was only one example. And analytical philosophers do this kind of philosophizing constantly. Even if there are some good arguments or philosophers out there, it’s almost impossible to find them since they are burried under tons of useless garbage.

ETA: From the Stanford Encyclopedia:

Some theorists who view themselves as emotivists suggest that even the most general terms of moral evaluation have a descriptive meaning rather than just an emotive or non-cognitive meaning.

Right, and they still see themselves as non-cognitivists. That doesn’t make any sense. Actually, I changed my mind. Pure non-cognitivism is just wrong. If I make the statement “you’re a very goog and righteous person” then this statement entails certain predictions/beliefs like “you probably won’t torture your own wife” or “you won’t steal”, etc. Those beliefs can be true or false.

Now, you could respond that I’ve stated something additional to my moral emotions. Yeah, we see that this whole debate leads eventually to nothing but arguing about definitions.

See this this section from the Stanford encyclopedia:

5. Can The Cognitivist/Non-cognitivist Distinction Be Sustained?

Non-cognitivist success in handling the embedding problem and related worries about reasoning would put non-cognitivists in a stronger argumentative position. But recently some commentators have suggested that success at this endeavor might be a mixed blessing. Success may indicate not that non-cognitivism is the right account of moral judgments, but instead that the contrast with cognitivism is not stark enough to make out a real distinction. Perhaps the distinction between cognitivism and non-cognitivism collapses as non-cognitivist theories are modified to capture all of the phenomena that cognitivists challenge them to explain. While both its advocates and those who argued strenuously against it would likely find themselves somewhat disoriented if this were correct, it does seem that noncognitivists would be most upset by this result. For that position was defined by denying key components of standard realist positions. If the cognitivist/noncognitivist dichotomy does not hold up, it would seem to show either that the standard positions were not after all committed to those components, or that those commitments could not be avoided by plausible theories.

Early versions of non-cognitivism did not seem subject to this sort of objection, precisely because they did not worry much about vindicating overall moral practice. Carnap (1937, 30–31) was happy to convict ordinary moral thinking of error. But as non-cognitivists have attempted to make sense of and explain most of the seemingly realist features of moral practice, it might seem hard to sustain the claim of a sharp contrast between factual language on the one hand and normative language on the other. Several challenges based on roughly this idea find a home in the recent literature.

5.1 Sophisticated Non-cognitivism vs. Sophisticated Cognitivist Relativism

One way to push the point is to challenge the non-cognitivist to distinguish non-cognitivism from cognitivist relativism. A speaker relativist is in a particularly good position to highlight the suggestion that there is little difference between sophisticated non-cognitivism and cognitivism. Both speaker relativists and non-cognitivists can say that the appropriateness of a moral judgment depends on a speaker’s attitudes. If the non-cognitivist suggests that moral judgments predicate properties in a secondary way (perhaps to handle embedding), the cognitivist relativist can agree. And the theories can agree that the property predicated is determined as a function of the speaker’s moral attitudes. Thus it becomes increasingly difficult to say precisely what the difference between the views is (Dreier 1999).


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