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June 24, 2004


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I recently became aware that Kyle Swan, continues to develop a complex expressivist theory, which he began to develop in a paper called "A Metaethical Option for Theists," forthcoming in Journal for Religious Ethics.


I don’t remember my Stevenson very well, but I had thought he said that in addition to saying that moral judgments express emotion, he said that they include a prescription (a directive?) to others to feel similarly. Should he be lumped with Hare (with respect to moral judgments being directives), or not, since the speaker only directs others to feel rather than to do (or refrain from doing)?

Also, I know you plan to post something on Hare soon, but I’ll bring it up now. I read him as being committed to moral objectivity in a less full-blown way. He’s not a minimalist but instead says things like “Objectivity is attained only because of the prescriptive element, common to different cultures which share a moral language, and the logic governing this. The logic of the prescriptive element requires moral prescriptions to be applied universally to all similar cases, and hence constraints them to be impartial.” So “good” or “right” are used essentially to commend (he thinks they have to be so in order to handle the problem of moral disagreement in the missionary case). But this really seems to suggest a kind of simple expressivism, since moral terms are used essentially to commend rather than to pick out properties.

Hi Kyle. First, you are right that Stevenson says in various places that moral judgments include some kind of prescription or directive for others to feel a certain way (in addition to expressing emotion). However, in Essay 11 of Facts and Values, a very illuminating essay in which Stevenson provides many retrospective remarks on his ethical theory, he is clear that this directive or "invitation-so-to-speak" is supposed to be taken to be what we would now call a perlocutionary act (or, more precisely, the perlocutionary intention), not a direct illocutionary act (pp. 208-209). He also says on p. 214 of the same essay, "But it must be remembered that (comparing evaluative sentences with those that are partly in the imperative mode) are useful only for the purpose of cutting through the supposition that ethical sentences can express nothing but beliefs. If expected to do more than that, imperative models will be misleading." So, I think Stevenson, in the end, does not intend his theory to be a prescriptive theory like Hare's.

Second, you write, "But this really seems to suggest a kind of simple expressivism, since moral terms are used essentially to commend rather than to pick out properties." If this is Hare's terminology, then it would suggest that Hare is a simple expressivist. But, I don't recall Hare ever using the word 'essentially'. He uses 'primarily'. And in saying that moral terms are used "primarily" to commend rather than to describe, I take Hare to mean that, for these terms, it would be easier for their descriptive meanings to change than for their nondescriptive meanings to change (see, for example, Language of Morals, 7.4 and 7.5 and through the years up through Sorting Out Ethics p. 54, 61). But this does not imply or suggest a simple expressivist theory.

Third, you write that "I read (Hare) as being a committed to moral objectivity in a less full-blown way. He's not a minimalist but instead says things like …." This seems to suggest that *I* take Hare to be committed to moral objectivity because I take him to hold that moral sentences have robust truth conditions. I don't, because you are right that, for Hare, moral objectivity is a result of the prescriptive force and universilizability of moral terms. Indeed, for Hare, moral objectivity *cannot* be the result of moral sentences having robust truth conditions, since Hare is a (speaker) relativist about the properties that moral terms pick out.

Thanks again for the comments, Kyle.

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