Social and individual expression

The idea behind expressivism as a philosophy of ethics faces a number of different challenges, and has a number of different choices to make as it tries to meet them. Perhaps the first is to specify what is the primitive of the theory, which will be something that is expressed, and is usually identified as a state of mind. Later in this paper, I shall suggest caution about this, but for the moment we can go along with it. Emotion was one suggestion, prescriptions are another, desires of various orders are candidates, but I prefer the less specific term ‘attitude’. One might ask why we should not go with the equally general term ‘belief’. The answer derives from the second challenge, which queries whether we have actually managed to locate a primitive suited to play its role in a substantive theory. This in turn depends on what exactly the substantive theory is trying to do, so we need to sketch an answer to that first. The need is more pressing since for some time now there have been theorists who have more or less explicitly turned their backs on the whole idea of ‘metaethics’ or theory of ethics, supposing that the only questions that should bother the philosopher come from within first-order practice, as we try to articulate our standards, to rank obligations and duties, or to relate those to utility and virtue.
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