How Expressivists Can and Should Solve Their Problem with Negation

Noûs 42 (4):573-599 (2008)
Expressivists have a problem with negation. The problem is that they have not, to date, been able to explain why ‘murdering is wrong’ and ‘murdering is not wrong’ are inconsistent sentences. In this paper, I explain the nature of the problem, and why the best efforts of Gibbard, Dreier, and Horgan and Timmons don’t solve it. Then I show how to diagnose where the problem comes from, and consequently how it is possible for expressivists to solve it. Expressivists should accept this solution, I argue, because it is demonstrably the only way of avoiding the problem, and because it generalizes. Once we see how to solve the negation problem, I show, it becomes easy to state a constructive, compositional expressivist semantics for a purely normative language with the expressive power of propositional logic, in which we can for the first time give explanatory, formally adequate expressivist accounts of logical inconsistency, logical entailment, and logical validity. As a corollary, I give what I take to be the first real expressivist explanation of why Geach’s original moral modus ponens argument is genuinely logically valid. This proves that the problem with expressivism cannot be that it can’t account for the logical properties of complex normative sentences. But it does not show that the same solution can work for a language with both normative and descriptive predicates, let alone that expressivists are able to deal with more complex linguistic constructions like tense, modals, or even quantifiers. In the final section, I show what kind of constraints the solution offered here would place expressivists under, in answering these further questions
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DOI 10.1111/j.1468-0068.2008.00693.x
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Alex Silk (2015). How to Be an Ethical Expressivist. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 91 (1):47-81.

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Cross-posted from

The paper we discussed this week is here and my (very short) handout is here.

Schroeder is offering more of a general structure for an expressivist account than a fully-worked out one, and one of the points he’s fairly vague on is what descriptive predicate should typically follow the ‘is for’ attitude. For the purposes of the paper, he adopts a proposal of Gibbard’s, which analyses disapproval (a technical term for the expressivist) in terms of being for blaming for; so the idea is that ‘Jon thinks murder is wrong’ should be rendered as ‘Jon is for blaming for murdering’.

(Note that we can’t just adopt the ‘is for’ proposal without any descriptive predicate: ‘is for the non-occurrence of’ because this collapses two readings we want to keep distinct; the non-occurrence of not-murdering is the same as the occurrence of murdering, while not blaming for not murdering is not the same as blaming for murdering.)

Taken literally, it looks like ... (read more)

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