Expressivism, truth, and (self-) knowledge

Philosophers' Imprint 9:1-26 (2009)

Matthew Chrisman
University of Edinburgh
In this paper, I consider the prospects of two different kinds of expressivism – ethical expressivism and avowal expressivism – in light of two common objections. The first objection stems from the fact that it is natural to think of ethical statements and avowals as at least potential manifestations of knowledge. The second objection stems from the fact that it is natural to treat ethical statements and avowals as truth-evaluable. I argue that, although a recent avowal expressivist attempt (Bar-On 2004) to meet the second objection may succeed, the related response to the first objection threatens to undermine the principal advantages of that view. Then, I argue that although recent ethical expressivist attempts (especially Blackburn 1998 and Gibbard 2003) to meet the first objection are successful, the related response to the second objection threatens to undermine the principal advantages of that view. This suggests a cross-pollination of defensive strategies, which I go on to explore in order to articulate the theoretical commitments one must take on to make either cross-pollinated position work in the face of both objections. In light of this, I suggest that the prospects for the resulting ethical expressivist position are considerably better than the prospects for the resulting avowal expressivist position, though both positions involve significant theoretical costs.
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