Expressivism and the limits of moral disagreement

Journal of Ethics 12 (1):25 - 55 (2008)
Abstract
This paper argues that expressivism faces serious difficulties giving an adequate account of univocal moral disagreements. Expressivist accounts of moral discourse understand moral judgments in terms of various noncognitive mental states, and they interpret moral disagreements as clashes between competing (and incompatible) attitudes. I argue that, for various reasons, expressivists must specify just what mental states are involved in moral judgment. If they do not, we lack a way of distinguishing moral judgments from other sorts of assessment and thus for identifying narrowly moral disagreements. If they do, we can construct cases of intuitively real dispute that do not rest on the theory’s preferred mental states. This strategy is possible because our intuitions about moral concept-ascription do not track speakers’ noncognitive states. I discuss various ways of developing this basic argument, then apply it to the work of the two most sophisticated proponents of expressivism, Allan Gibbard and Simon Blackburn. I argue that neither is successful in meeting the challenge.
Keywords Simon Blackburn  disagreement  expressivism  Allan Gibbard  moral  noncognitivism  univocity
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