Review essay on moral fictionalism by mark E. Kalderon (oup, 2005)

The popular expedient of identifying noncognitivism with the claim that moral judgments are neither true nor false leaves open the question of what kind of thing a moral judgment is—an indeterminacy that has led to decades of confusion as to what the noncognitivist is more precisely committed to. Sometimes noncognitivism is presented as a claim about mental states (“Moral judgments are not beliefs”), sometimes as a claim about meaning (“X is morally good” means no more than “X: hurray!”), sometimes as a claim about speech acts (“Moral judgments are not assertions”). Focus on the last two possibilities. The former calls for a translation schema from a propositional surface grammar to a non-propositional deep structure. Such schemata from the noncognitivist are familiar to students of metaethics. (Cf. A.J. Ayer’s claim that in saying “You acted wrongly in stealing that money” one is “not saying anything more than … ‘You stole that money,’ [but] in a peculiar tone of horror.”) It is less widely realized that the noncognitivist is not obliged to offer any such translation schema, for she might instead plump for the last option, of formulating noncognitivism as a theory not of meaning but of use. Perhaps the moral cognitivist is correct about the meaning of moral sentences (there is a wide range of possibilities here) but wrong about the way people use moral sentences: perhaps people do not assert moral sentences, perhaps the nature of acceptance of a moral claim is not belief.
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