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September 07, 2014

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Hey Simon,

sorry for being thick-headed, but could you please clarify what exactly the "broad understanding" of the first premise is?

Here is how I perceived what is wrong with the argument: We are trying to saddle expressivism with a commitment to subjectivism purely on premises the expressivist herself ought to accept. For the expressivist to accept claims of the form "It is a fact that one has moral reason not to lie" though, she needs some understanding of what it is to talk about moral facts. Here's what many expressivist (I think) would say: talk of moral facts is just more moral talk. To say that its a fact that giving to charity is obligatory is just to say (roughly) that giving to charity is obligatory.
Now think about premise 1: we know how the expressivist thinks about moral facts, but what does she think about claims about "attitude-independent facts"? Well, that depends on how you read the notion of an "attitude-independent fact." Here's what Blackburn says: at least *some* claims about attitude-independent facts just are more moral claims. But now, the expressivist cannot jointly accept premises 1 and 2 anymore. But that just shows that the argument presupposes that the Blackburn move doesn't work, rather than show this. What the argument needs to work from the very beginning is that expressivists can't say that some claims about attitude-independent facts are moral claims. But that's just to deny from the very beginning that Blackburn's response to the mind-independence challenge works. Maybe you think that this is what is shown by the wishful thinking objection? Namely that no claim about a mind-independent fact could be a moral claim? I don't see how Dorr's argument can show this.
I've always thought the problem with the "wishful thinking" problem was that its irrational to go from conative attitudes to descriptive belief (or whatever the expressivist thinks is expressed by ordinary descriptive discourse), which means that the expressivist has to deny the rationality of certain perfectly rational inferences. It's not irrational to go from conative attitudes to conative attitudes, though, right? But, if Blackburn is correct that the expressivist can construe at least some claims about an attitude-independent facts as moral claims expressing conative attitudes, then the expressivist need not accept premise 1 as you state it. But note that this response is perfectly compatible with "wishful thinking" (at least as I understand it) still being a problem, on a modified reading of premise 1, so I am not presupposing, in my response, that there is no problem from "wishful thinking".
So, it still seems to me that the argument rests on an understanding of many of the relevant notions which expressivists will simply reject. Maybe I am still missing something, but consequently I can't see how there's a reading of all of the premises which an expressivist ought to accept (and this includes theses which *anyone* ought to accept - the point is simply not to beg the question against the sort of expressivism on offer) which leads to the desired conclusion that expressivists are simply subjectivists in disguise. So maybe you can help me along to see where my reasoning goes wrong?

Jamie: I agree that the ordinary term "wishful thinking" is a bit narrow for what is being described. I understood it and adopted it as a technical term in this context, as no convenient term exists for the broader class of epistemic irrationality that consists in modifying one's beliefs about attitude-independent facts to correspond to one's non-cognitive attitudes.

I can't see how it makes a difference that the non-cognitive attitudes might be plans or intentions. How can changes purely in one's plans or intentions can make it epistemically rational to change one's beliefs about attitude-indepedent facts? If I form the intention to drink this glass of water, it may not be irrational to accept the belief that this glass will soon be empty. But this fact will be attitude-dependent in an important respect. (Similarly, if I believe that my mother only cooks what I like for dinner, and I come to dislike eggs, it may not be irrational to accept the belief that my mother will not cook eggs for dinner. But this is an attitude-dependent fact in an important respect.) Plans or intentions also presuppose facts about possibility. But it would be epistemically irrational for me to form the plan or intention to fly to the moon by flapping my arms, and then infer that I can fly to the moon by flapping my arms on the basis of my having adopted the plan or intention.

Sebastian: the broader reading I had in mind was the one in which "attitude-independent facts" refers to just attitude-independent facts, and not only to "attitude-dependent Facts", as you helpfully put it. I agree with you that expressivists' further commitments may force them to deny that premise. But one cannot straightforwardly conclude that my argument begs the question! In fact, the expressivist reply you suggest looks like a question-begging insistence that coming to accept a claim about attitude-independent facts purely as a result of a change in one's non-cognitive attitudes may be rational. I think expressivists need an argument for this point that does not presuppose the truth of expressivism itself.

Facts about non-cognitive attitudes are obviously not attitude-independent facts, and what makes attitudes non-cognitive is that they are not belief-like states. Arguably, belief-like states constitute evidence for what is believed, and what is believed of course may be an attitude-independent fact. But desire-like states cannot similarly be evidence for what is desired (and, going back to Jamie's point, plan-like states cannot similarly constitute evidence for what is planned, except insofar as what happens may be explainable by reference to our plans). This asymmetry between beliefs and non-cognitive attitudes is what makes it quite mysterious how it could ever be rational to come to accept a claim about attitude-independent facts purely as a result of a change in one's non-cognitive attitudes. I think expressivists owe us an argument against this claim, if they want to deny it.

Yes, those are examples of reasoning from plans to plan-free beliefs that seems irrational. But the question is whether it is irrational in general.

Suppose Rhoda is a student driver. She has learned this rule: stop only when the light is red. She has adopted that plan, and accepts that conditional imperative.
Rhoda is driving with her teacher when her teacher says, “Rhoda, stop.” She accepts this, without reasoning or deliberation. I would say that in so doing she has adopted a plan. As she leans gently on the brake pedal she infers, “The light is red”.
Do you think Rhoda’s inference was irrational?

Jamie: so you think Rhoda's inference looks like this?

Plan: Stop only when the light is read
Plan: Stop
=> Belief: The light is red

I think that's irrational. What's her evidence for the belief? *Maybe* it would be rational if she also had evidence for the belief that she only forms consistent plans. But that doesn't seem to be part of your case. I think it's hard to imagine your case without attributing to Rhoda a bunch of other beliefs that might rationalize the conclusion (that the instructor has commanded her to stop, that the instructor only commands stopping when the light is red, etc). But we should exclude these from consideration.

...here's an inference which may be analogous.

Plan: Abstain from activities that are hazardous to my health.
Plan: Have just one more cigarette.
=> Having just one more cigarette isn't hazardous to my health.

Looks like wishful thinking, no?

Rhoda's reasoning looks good to me. I would be very worried about someone who didn't reason that way under the circumstances Rhoda is in.

I agree that whether it's good is going to depend on what else she believes, but that's true for all reasoning.

Jamie: I am interested but I don't think I understand your point about Rhoda. If Rhonda's reasoning is rational (absent some further implicit premise), so must my smoker's be. But there is something wrong with the smoker's inference. You may be right that with the appropriate background beliefs, it is rational to form beliefs about attitude-independent facts based on changes in one's non-cognitive attitudes alone. But these background beliefs must provide for an explanatory connection between the facts and the relevant non-cognitive attitudes. For example, if I justifiably believed that natural selection had made humans desire just things that historically conferred a selective advantage, and I formed a desire for pomegranate, it may be rational to infer that pomegranate historically conferred a selective advantage. But this can only be rational because of the supposed explanatory connection between the fact (selective advantage of pomegranate) and the non-cognitive attitude (desire for pomegranate): my explanation of my desire invokes the fact that I then go on to infer. (We could even formulate a hypothetical case in which the very fact that p explains the desire that p, thus licensing a special case of "wishful thinking" in the everyday sense.) Similarly, maybe Rhoda justifiably believes that she won't plan to stop if the light weren't red. Then, when she forms the plan to stop, maybe she can rationally infer from this that the light is red. (I'm not sure, but I'll grant that all such inferences are rational).

But all that this point shows, as far as I can see, is that the first, "wishful thinking", premise of my argument needs to be spelled out quite carefully to ensure it allows for this sort of special case. Have you got some reason for thinking that non-cognitivists always have recourse to explanatory connections like those that exist in the pomegranate case, whenever they are committed to treating inferences from changes in their non-cognitive attitudes to moral claims as rational?

Simon,

If Rhonda's reasoning is rational (absent some further implicit premise), so must my smoker's be.

I don’t think so. Your smoker’s problem has to do with the way he acquired his plan, right? That’s what makes his case genuine wishful thinking, and that’s why I said (thinking I was agreeing with you) that the soundness of the reasoning depends on what else the reasoner believes.

Compare Ralph and Sam. Sam believes that everyone who commits a crime will be punished. Watching his rival juggling, consumed by jealousy, Sam comes to believe that juggling is a crime. Happily, he infers that his rival will be punished.
Ralph thinks that all red lights are stop signals. His teacher tells him there is a red light at the intersection ahead. Ralph infers that there is a stop signal ahead.
Ralph is analogous to Rhoda; Sam is analogous to your smoker. The difference (between good reasoning and bad reasoning that share a logical form) shows up just as well when the reasoning is indicative. I think it has nothing to do with the plan-ladenness of your smoker’s bad reasoning.

You may be right that with the appropriate background beliefs, it is rational to form beliefs about attitude-independent facts based on changes in one's non-cognitive attitudes alone. But these background beliefs must provide for an explanatory connection between the facts and the relevant non-cognitive attitudes.

That’s a bit vague. I don’t think it’s true, but in any case my real point is that whatever version of it is true is true also when the reasoning is, say, modus ponens with indicative sentences (that don’t express plan-laden beliefs).

…Similarly, maybe Rhoda justifiably believes that she won't plan to stop if the light weren't red. Then, when she forms the plan to stop, maybe she can rationally infer from this that the light is red. (I'm not sure, but I'll grant that all such inferences are rational).

Maybe. As I was thinking of the case, Rhoda never stopped to think about whether she will plan to stop if the light isn’t red. She just accepts the conditional imperative, “Stop only if the light is red,” then on the basis of habitual (and let’s suppose justified) trust of her instructor, she accepts “Stop”, and from these she infers that the light is red. I think someone who can draw this inference in similar circumstances is in better shape than someone who balks.

Have you got some reason for thinking that non-cognitivists always have recourse to explanatory connections like those that exist in the pomegranate case, whenever they are committed to treating inferences from changes in their non-cognitive attitudes to moral claims as rational?

I’m not sure; I don’t know what the range of cases is that you have in mind. I think some modus ponens reasoning is terrible reasoning – everyone thinks that. (Mark Van Roojen pointed this out in a reply to Dorr.) So surely there is some terrible modus ponens reasoning involving imperatives or other plan-expressing sentences.

I thought your claim, following Dorr, was that every instance of modus ponens in which the non-conditional premise expressed a plan was an instance of wishful thinking. I think Rhoda’s reasoning is fine, so the very general claim is false. But you think there are some examples that are not okay and that non-cognitivists must say is okay. This could be right; right now I’m claiming only that whether reasoning is (or is like) wishful thinking is not settled by whether one of the premises expresses a non-cognitive state. I think you agree, right?

Mike, Sebastian,

That's been helpful. Though I also have to admit that I had a hard time to follow some of the more technical remarks - which is probably due to the fact that my conception of expressivism is a bit 'dusted'… (i.e., I am not too well acquainted with the more recent literature). Be that as it may, I am not sure whether your remarks undermine my suggestion.
Maybe another way of putting my suggestion would be in terms of the distinction between normatively relevant and normative properties. Picking up Mike's advice and starting with some ordinary language claims about reason for action, I suppose that in everyday life (especially when it's summer…) we will want to say things like: 'Tim's desire for ice-cream now is a reason for Tim to buy some ice-cream now'. Tim's desire for ice-cream will be p, let 'now' roughly describe c, Tim is x, and 'buy some ice-cream' is phi. As the example suggests, in ordinary language, it appears we speak as if p was the reason.
However - and that is what I was suggesting, I suppose - I am not sure whether we should import that way of speaking into philosophical discourse (and to that extent, of course, my proposal would be revisionist). There is no doubt, it appears to me, that in the given example p will designate a normatively relevant property. It picks out a property which, it appears to me, ordinary speaker are looking for when they are looking for normatively relevant features of a given situation. I.e. the property of Tim having a desire for ice-cream now will appear to be normatively salient to ordinary speakers. Nevertheless, I am inclined to doubt that p is here also, not the normatively relevant, but the - if you wish 'genuine' - normative property in the sense as being a property the instantiation of which licenses normative conclusion.
Lurking in the background is, of course, Hume's Law. From p alone in combination with an indefinite number of other descriptive statements, no normative conclusion will be licensed. This is the reason why our speaking as if p were the reason appears to me to eliptical (if not confused). Reasons, it appears to me, should be normative in the above sense (licensing normative inferences). Thus, it appears to me that instead of saying that, in the given example, p is the reason, we should say that the fact that p speaks in favor of x's phi'ing in c is the reason. (Or to fill in the example again: we should say that the fact that Tim's desire for ice-cream now speaks in favor of Tim's buying an ice-cream now is the reason [for Tim to buy the ice-cream]; and maybe should even add that that relation's obtaining plus p's being the case in combination are the reason (?).)
Now, I can see how this might sound odd (and, to be sure, I am myself not sure about whether it is odd or not…). It might seem odd because now, it seems, the notion of a reason appears twice and/or is self-referential. It appears in the form of R's obtaining; and it appears in R itself in the form of the phrase 'speaks in favor of'. But maybe we should not buy into the identification of 'being a reason' and 'speaking in favor of'. Second, we might - and the functionalist might applause?! - just get rid of the description 'speaking in favor of' by claiming that the property of being a reason for someone just is the relation R(p,x,c,phi) - where we find out more about this relation by way of conceptual analysis (?!?; at this point my 'convictions' become very shaky).
Against the backdrop of such an understanding of the notion of a reason, why should expressivism (about reasons in this sense) imply existence internalism? I think my original thought was that the expressivist would somehow be committed to claim that a speaker when 'expressivistically applauding' (and here my dusted views might shine through again…) for the fact that R obtains (such as when uttering sentences like 'Tim's desire for ice-cream now gives him reason to buy ice-cream now') simultaneously 'provides' the truth-conditions for R's obtaining. However, I now see that this is not the case; and that an expressivist could in any case be neutral on what provides the truth-conditions for R's obtaining and just stick to his (meta-) semantic analysis of statements like the one in the example?!?

In sum, I forgo my earlier suggestion on how expressivism might imply existence internalism. But would still be interested what your thoughts on the "what we should conceive to be a reason properly understood"-stuff are.

Mike, Sebastian,

That's been helpful. Though I also have to admit that I had a hard time to follow some of the more technical remarks - which is probably due to the fact that my conception of expressivism is a bit 'dusted'… (i.e., I am not too well acquainted with the more recent literature). Be that as it may, I am not sure whether your remarks undermine my suggestion.
Maybe another way of putting my suggestion would be in terms of the distinction between normatively relevant and normative properties. Picking up Mike's advice and starting with some ordinary language claims about reason for action, I suppose that in everyday life (especially when it's summer…) we will want to say things like: 'Tim's desire for ice-cream now is a reason for Tim to buy some ice-cream now'. Tim's desire for ice-cream will be p, let 'now' roughly describe c, Tim is x, and 'buy some ice-cream' is phi. As the example suggests, in ordinary language, it appears we speak as if p was the reason.
However - and that is what I was suggesting, I suppose - I am not sure whether we should import that way of speaking into philosophical discourse (and to that extent, of course, my proposal would be revisionist). There is no doubt, it appears to me, that in the given example p will designate a normatively relevant property. It picks out a property which, it appears to me, ordinary speaker are looking for when they are looking for normatively relevant features of a given situation. I.e. the property of Tim having a desire for ice-cream now will appear to be normatively salient to ordinary speakers. Nevertheless, I am inclined to doubt that p is here also, not the normatively relevant, but the - if you wish 'genuine' - normative property in the sense as being a property the instantiation of which licenses normative conclusion.
Lurking in the background is, of course, Hume's Law. From p alone in combination with an indefinite number of other descriptive statements, no normative conclusion will be licensed. This is the reason why our speaking as if p were the reason appears to me to eliptical (if not confused). Reasons, it appears to me, should be normative in the above sense (licensing normative inferences). Thus, it appears to me that instead of saying that, in the given example, p is the reason, we should say that the fact that p speaks in favor of x's phi'ing in c is the reason. (Or to fill in the example again: we should say that the fact that Tim's desire for ice-cream now speaks in favor of Tim's buying an ice-cream now is the reason [for Tim to buy the ice-cream]; and maybe should even add that that relation's obtaining plus p's being the case in combination are the reason (?).)
Now, I can see how this might sound odd (and, to be sure, I am myself not sure about whether it is odd or not…). It might seem odd because now, it seems, the notion of a reason appears twice and/or is self-referential. It appears in the form of R's obtaining; and it appears in R itself in the form of the phrase 'speaks in favor of'. But maybe we should not buy into the identification of 'being a reason' and 'speaking in favor of'. Second, we might - and the functionalist might applause?! - just get rid of the description 'speaking in favor of' by claiming that the property of being a reason for someone just is the relation R(p,x,c,phi) - where we find out more about this relation by way of conceptual analysis (?!?; at this point my 'convictions' become very shaky).
Against the backdrop of such an understanding of the notion of a reason, why should expressivism (about reasons in this sense) imply existence internalism? I think my original thought was that the expressivist would somehow be committed to claim that a speaker when 'expressivistically applauding' (and here my dusted views might shine through again…) for the fact that R obtains (such as when uttering sentences like 'Tim's desire for ice-cream now gives him reason to buy ice-cream now') simultaneously 'provides' the truth-conditions for R's obtaining. However, I now see that this is not the case; and that an expressivist could in any case be neutral on what provides the truth-conditions for R's obtaining and just stick to his (meta-) semantic analysis of statements like the one in the example?!?

In sum, I forgo my earlier suggestion on how expressivism might imply existence internalism. But would still be interested what your thoughts on the "what we should conceive to be a reason properly understood"-stuff are.

Thank you everyone once again for an interesting discussion. We have been enlightened by some of your comments and if our book ever goes into a second edition this discussion will help us improve our discussion of expressivism.

We do not have time to respond to all of the comments made, but we do want to thank Campbell Brown for restating our argument (see his comment of September 09, 2014 at 08:06 AM) in a manner that Jussi Suikkanen agrees is “not absurd.”

In response to Brown, Suikkanen maintains that “Expressivists say that there really are objective reasons.” They may say this, of course, but it isn’t at all clear how, on their view, “objective reasons” differ from reasons that are reducible to their present desires. At least as far as those expressivists who are quasi-realists are concerned, since they are not, after all, realists, there must be a difference between these positions. One crucial difference is how realists and quasi-realists understand objectivism.

The passage Mike Ridge quotes from Simon Blackburn’s exchange in Kansas is something Blackburn has said many times – including when he gave a talk in a seminar series one of us runs at Princeton. He responds to a metaethical question by going normative. He finds it a “curiously common” misinterpretation, but there is nothing curious about wanting an answer that addresses the question at the level at which it was asked, or failing that, provides substantive arguments against the possibility of coherently framing such a question.

It is worth noting that in this passage Blackburn acknowledges that his position rests on a denial of “a more robust, metaphysically heavyweight conception of what it would be for there to be moral truths.” Doesn’t this undermine the claims made by Suikkanen and his supporters that Blackburn’s expressivism is purely a semantic or meta-semantic theory with no implications for meta-ethical subjectivism? It has, Blackburn is here conceding, the implication that there is no coherent robust metaphysically heavyweight conception of moral truth.
Sidgwick held a robust view of moral truth, and Parfit has also offered one, although he would deny that it requires heavyweight metaphysics. In our book we explain and endeavor to support Sidgwick’s view of moral truth. Perhaps Suikkanen’s initial post has given the impression that our argument is based only on Parfit’s case of the person with Future Tuesday Indifference, and then on the attempt to link the rejection of Hume’s view of reason with the rejection of expressivism, but for Sidgwick the argument also rests on his claim that there are moral truths, or axioms, that are self-evidently rational. We seek to defend this claim in our book. Our defense of it may or may not be sound, but it needs to be considered, as do Parfit’s arguments.

Finally, we return to our earlier claim that “expressivism can be made defensible, a la Schroeder, as a semantic or meta-semantic theory, but only at the cost of emptying it of substantive claims so that it becomes trivial.” Some of the comments above deny that there is any such dilemma. We think that one illuminating statement of it comes from Schroeder himself. With his permission – but without implying that he endorses the connection we are making between it and the issue under discussion here – we will quote the conclusion of his “What matters about metaethics,” written for a forthcoming collection of essays on Parfit’s On What Matters, to be entitled Does Anything Really Matter? Parfit on Objectivity, edited by one of us, and to be published next year by OUP. (Schroeder’s paper has also now appeared in his Explaining the Reasons We Share, OUP 2014.) The passage refers to Parfit’s claim that if subjectivism is true, his life has been wasted:

"… I’m inclined to think that the important issue about which Parfit cares is not quite the same as the issues that have been pursued in contemporary metaethical inquiry under the headings of reduction or noncognitivism. Rather, if what Parfit cares about is right, then though many metaethical views are indeed false, there is still a striking range of what I’ve called conservative metaethical theories – views which share a relatively common picture of the data, but offer competing explanations of it. Though all but one of these views are false, which one turns out to be true would not affect whether Parfit’s life has been wasted, and will have no consequences for Parfit’s arguments in the core chapters of On What Matters.
Like the convergence between Kantian, Consequentialist, and Contractualist approaches to normative theory, the conservative approaches to metaethics which I’ve been discussing here share a common conception of some of the data. But unlike them, I don’t believe that they could merely be complementary paths toward the same truth (although contrast Gibbard [2003]). Rather, they are loosely like different orogenies for the same mountain – different theories about where it came from.
If what you are primarily interested in, like Parfit, is how to get to the top of the mountain, then you may not care where the mountain came from. And if most of the people you talk to who do care where it came from are mostly concerned to try to convince you that that since they can’t understand where it came from, it must really be a flat plain, or that since they can’t understand how you could have gotten so high, you must not be climbing the same peak as anyone else, you are not likely to find orogeny very worthwhile. But it doesn’t follow that the mountain has no history. Even fellow climbers can pause, every once in a while, to admire the sweeping vistas, to rest up for the next leg of the journey, and to ponder whether this mountain was formed by subduction, volcanic action, or in some other way. It is true that many contributions to metaethics are like the orogenist telling Parfit that there is no mountain, or that everyone has her own mountain. But at its best and most interesting, metaethical inquiry needn’t be like that at all. It has room for many questions which can be pursued with an open mind even by mountaineers who share Parfit’s quest for the peak."


Like Parfit, we think that in comparison to the importance of getting to the peak (that is, discovering the truth about how we ought to act) questions about how the mountain came about (that is, about the best semantic or meta-semantic account of moral judgments) are much less significant. We concede that the term “trivial” was too strong. So we now restate our dilemma: “Expressivism can be made defensible, a la Schroeder, as a semantic or meta-semantic theory, but such a defense indicates that the questions it addresses are much less significant than the questions about the objectivity of ethics and of practical reason that Sidgwick and Parfit address, and which we discuss in our book.”

Hi Katarzyna and Peter,

Thanks for coming back on this. The restated version of the dilemma is more plausible in its claims, but perhaps not all that damaging. Not every philosophical question worth pursuing for its own sake will be as weighty as the profound question, "How ought one to live?" so I'm not so sure that those working on pure meta-ethical questions should lose too much sleep over this dilemma, to be honest. Though I'm not sure from the context whether you thought they should, or just how damaging the dilemma is meant to be. If it were damaging then I expect a huge percentage of philosophy, both contemporary and historical, would fall within its very broad scope. It reminds me a little of the issue dividing those who care about purely scientific research with no likely practical applications or "spin-offs" and those who think we should stay focused only on scientific questions we might eventually be able to transform into useful technology and the like.

In fact, though, I think you may be too quick to dismiss the relevance of purely meta-ethical inquiry on these grounds. For one of the weighty and profound questions which would meet your criterion of significance is presumably whether nihilism is true - whether there "is a mountain" to stick with your metaphor, or whether we should be taken in by someone like the child in The Matrix who reminds us that there "is no spoon" and believe there "is no mountain."

Crucially, one of the potentially profound points of quasi-realist expressivism is that we don't have to believe in any of the queer facts that Mackie went on about to believe in objective reasons in the only sense in which such beliefs can intelligibly be understood at the end of the day. If those arguments work (a big 'if', of course) then one of the upshots of quasi-realism is to provide an antidote to a kind of argument for nihilism, an argument which (like Mackie's own argument) starts off with some heavy weight metaphysical assumptions about moralizing. So quasi-realism might, in the end, be very relevant to *insulating* our moral and normative practice from a kind of otherwise powerful nihilist challenge. That seems to meet the criterion of significance laid down by your dilemma above, or so I'd have thought. Again, you may not be convinced by the view for some reason, but that doesn't mean that it isn't offering a view which speaks, albeit indirectly, to the profound question of whether a good case for radical nihilism about objective reasons could be made out.

In fact, I think that charitably understood quasi-realism also provides a good insulation against certain bad arguments for relativism too, and so helps guard against those who say we "each stand on our own mountain." Such arguments often implicitly trade on a tacit cognitivism which fixes content in terms of speaker's attitude, whereas the expressivist insists that attitudes come into the picture in a very different way, and in a way which does not entail relativism of any kind. By diagnosing this misunderstanding of the role of desires in meta-ethics, certain bad arguments for relativism (or, anyway, subjectivism) are disarmed too.

So I'm not entirely sure that even this much more modest dilemma actually achieves its more modest aims.

A few points of detail from earlier in your comments. At one point you say: "They may say this [that there really are objective reasons], of course, but it isn’t at all clear how, on their view, “objective reasons” differ from reasons that are reducible to their present desires." Well, I'm an expressivist, and I say that the fact that it hampers the growth of knowledge is itself a reason not to put forward creationist ideas, and that it would be a reason even if nobody cared about knowledge. I think that is true, and I don't know what in my expressivism suggests otherwise. Since facts about creationism hampering knowledge are not facts about desires at all, much less about my desires, and since the claim is that those facts are reasons even if nobody cares about knowledge, I have trouble seeing why that reason is somehow equivalent to my present desire. Of course, in saying that there is such a reason I am expressing a desire (actually a belief/desire hybrid on my own view) but so what? The whole point of expressivism is to offer an account of what it is to make a normative judgment which does not try to reduce normative facts to something non-normative. Why should our answer to 'What is normative judgment?' entail *any* view about the correct answer to 'What is a reason for action?' given the kind of expressivist answer we offer to the former? At any rate, the whole point of the expressivist gambit of changing questions is to avoid giving such an account. It seems to show a bit of a tin ear to find it unclear why their account doesn't imply that reasons just are desires or some such.

Finally, on this: "He finds it a “curiously common” misinterpretation, but there is nothing curious about wanting an answer that addresses the question at the level at which it was asked, or failing that, provides substantive arguments against the possibility of coherently framing such a question."

There would be nothing curious about it the first time it happened, perhaps. The point, though, is that the misinterpretation keeps happening no matter how many times Simon and others explain, in great detail why certain claims which might initially seem like purely meta-ethical questions, are actually normative questions, and hence open to an expressivist analysis.

Moreover, the same misinterpretation keeps cropping up without any indication that there have been rather extensive efforts to explain why you can't just assume questions about mind-independence are not first-order questions without begging the very question at issue. That this mistake would keep being made after having been addressed and diagnosed so many times is indeed rather curious.

I find this increasingly frustrating as no progress is made and none of the original arguments are being addressed. I'll just make one comment. If you deny that there is a coherent robust metaphysically heavyweight notion of moral truth (when you are not in the mood of climbing Ramsey's ladder sideways), it doesn't follow that you reduce reasons to your present desires (for one, if reasons reduce to your present desires, there is a coherent robust metaphysically heavyweight notion of moral truth). Neither does it follow that existence internalism is true or that you cannot give object-given reasons to your moral views.

I also have to say that I am not sure I can find an explanatory and illuminating account of coherent robust metaphysically heavyweight notion of moral truths from the book and I think I fail to find such an account from Sidgwick or Parfit either. Anyway, time to do other things.

Oh, also, on this bit: "It is worth noting that in this passage Blackburn acknowledges that his position rests on a denial of “a more robust, metaphysically heavyweight conception of what it would be for there to be moral truths.” Doesn’t this undermine the claims made by Suikkanen and his supporters that Blackburn’s expressivism is purely a semantic or meta-semantic theory with no implications for meta-ethical subjectivism? It has, Blackburn is here conceding, the implication that there is no coherent robust metaphysically heavyweight conception of moral truth."

Why think there being no robust notion of moral truth implies subjectivism? Simon endorses deflationism about truth, so he thinks there is no robust notion of truth, full stop, even about questions in physics. Does that mean he (or, say, Paul Horwich?) should think that the fundamental facts of physics are mind-dependent in some way? I don't see the connection implied here between the right theory of the concept of truth and one's view of what truths there are in some local domain (e.g. morality or physics). "Kicking cats for fun is wrong, and its wrongness in no way depends on our attitudes" - securing the legitimacy of that ought to be enough for mind-independence in the needed sense - regardless of whether one then goes on to endorses a correspondence or deflationist conception of truth.

For what it is worth (shameless plug alert!), in *Impassioned Belief*, I develop a way for expressivists to think about truth that will allow them even to incorporate notions as robust as 'corresponding to reality' in whatever sense the correspondence theorist has in mind into their account of truth. That approach depends on the hybrid structure of my own form of expressivism and it would be way too much of a digression to lay it out here. But it does mean that quasi-realists can go even further in accommodating realist notions than this passage from Blackburn suggests. Whether they need to do so or not is another question, of course.

Jussi,
[this won't be on expressivism though it will be an expression]
As a hedonist utilitarian I'm becoming worried with you getting more and more frustrated! [joking] We won't post anything more on that, I promise. [not joking, unless Peter wants to add anything]

IF we are so limited in our responses it is because in order to treat you and others fair, we would need to go through a lot of literature. Neither of us has time for that now. We try to understand you and think of the problem but this will take us [and especially me] some time. Neither of us has been interested in expressivism much and this is our limitation. You have one too, I'm sure.

I'm sorry you do not like our book. This happens. We worked on it hard and did try to make it as good as time and other things allowed. I think we did well enough, even if not perfect.

I like seeing things in perspective. Philosophy is fascinating but what we are discussing here will have limited impact on really important things in life.
Therefore, thank you Jussi [and everyone else] for exciting discussion! Thank you for spending time on teaching me something; I'm grateful you have exercised my brain! But let's treat each other with kindness and be more relaxed.

Thanks everyone and I hope to meet you at another soup!

In the spirit of Katarzyna's last post, let me offer a more constructive comment. In your previous post, I liked the fact that you were willing, in effect, to say 'mea culpa' and indicate that you'd like to rewrite the discussion of expressivism, a point you reiterate here, should the book have a second edition. Since you also don't really want to engage with the complex literature on quasi-realist expressivism in the book, it seems (and perhaps with good reason, as this is a tangent from your main aims in the book), let me suggest another dilemma which might be sufficient for your purposes.

"Simplifying a little bit, expressivism historically has come in two forms, the old school non-cognitivism of A.J. Ayer which denies that moral sentences are as much as truth-apt, and the fancier forms of quasi-realist expressivism from people like Blackburn which insist not only on moral truth but on mind-independent moral truth in the only sense that can be made of that notion - but within a broadly expressivist meta-theory. The former would be a threat to our project in this book, since 'no moral truth' trivially entails 'no mind-independent moral truth'. But, fortunately, that old-school expressivism is not very plausible for a variety of by now familiar reasons and pretty much nobody endorses it. The latter, though, if it all works as its proponents claim it does (we are not sure it does, ourselves, but we don't need to take a stand on that here) is no threat to objective, mind-independent moral truths, and so is not a view we need to oppose in any way. It is but one of a range of meta-theories which if otherwise sound could be combined with our most cherished theses about objectivity, etc." I don't know if you'd find that congenial, but it seems to me like a good way forward if there should be a second edition, myself, given where you've ended up on this.

Thanks, Mike, for the suggested alternative dilemma, which is a much more precise and therefore better way of putting the point we were trying to make with our use of the passage from Schroeder.

In his earlier comment Mike writes that if our dilemma is sound, then "a huge percentage of philosophy, both contemporary and historical, would fall within its very broad scope." That may well be true, but is it an objection to our dilemma, or to philosophy as a discipline? That would be a worthwhile topic for another discussion, but like Katarzyna, I think it's time to move on to other things now.

Thanks Jussi for starting this off, and sorry that you don't think any progress has been made. That is another point on which we are going to have to disagree.

Tim Scanlon and Derek Parfit deny that there is any robust, metaphysically heavyweight conception of what it would be for there to be moral truths. So they seem to be impaled on the same horn as Blackburn and Gibbard (and Ridge and Schroeder), if indeed there is some dilemma. But I doubt there is.

What is truth? What is a belief? What is representation?
How do we meaning-makers and meaning-consumers stand in relation to our meanings, and to the world we represent?
What makes ethical thought practical? How do our plans and emotions figure in what we say and how can they clash when we disagree?

I would have thought no argument was necessary for the idea that these are profoundly significant questions. The opposed thought that only first-order ethics is important seems to me to be a fairly outrageous and academically parochial one, and prima facie extremely unlikely to be true.

James, we didn't say that only first-order ethics (I presume you mean normative ethics) is important. If that were our view, why would we have just published a book of which the first four chapters are about meta-ethics?

Just to remind you, here's how we restated our dilemma in our comment of September 15:

“Expressivism can be made defensible, a la Schroeder, as a semantic or meta-semantic theory, but such a defense indicates that the questions it addresses are much less significant than the questions about the objectivity of ethics and of practical reason that Sidgwick and Parfit address, and which we discuss in our book.”

Although Parfit denies that any heavyweight metaphysics is needed to defend the idea of objective truth in ethics, he does not reject a robust view of truth. We also drew that distinction in our earlier comment, although Jussi's comment muddied the waters again by bringing back the reference to "heavyweight metaphysics" in connection with Sidgwick and Parfit.

Mike p0inted out that not every philosophical question worth pursuing for its own sake will be as weighty as the profound question, "How ought one to live?" and added that if that were the standard then “a huge percentage of philosophy, both contemporary and historical,” would turn out to be relatively insignificant. Peter then asked, apparently seriously, whether this might just be an indictment of philosophy as a discipline.
I was responding to that. I agree it doesn’t outright claim that only normative ethics is important, but if that wasn’t the general idea I wonder what was.

I know that Parfit says he has a robust conception of truth that has no metaphysical commitments, but the question is what that is supposed to mean.

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