"A Problem For Expressivists" Analysis, Vol. 58, No. 4 (October, 1998) 239-251, by Frank Jackson and Philip Pettit (Australian National University),
(See review by Michael Ridge here)
Reply to Ridge by
Frank Jackson (Frank.firstname.lastname@example.org)
and Philip Pettit (email@example.com)
e sought to refute expressivism by showing that expressivists must allow that ethical sentences express beliefs. In particular, we argued that expressivists must allow that ethical sentences express beliefs about the attitudes they famously hold these sentences express, and observed that this turned expressivism into ethical subjectivism by turning ethical sentences into reports of those attitudes. We connected the question of the truth aptness of ethical sentences to the issue about whether they express beliefs by identifying the question of whether a sentence is truth apt to the question of whether it expresses a belief.
Michael Ridge seeks to finesse us. He offers a version of expressivism that allows that ethical sentences express beliefs. We say briefly why we are unmoved.
How can expressivists allow that ethical sentences express beliefs, be they beliefs about attitudes or not? The key contention of expressivists is that ethical sentences are not in the reporting business; but a sentence that expresses a belief is thereby in the reporting business, the business of reporting on what the belief is about. Ridge's idea is that expressivism remains in place because the beliefs that ethical sentences express are not ethical beliefs. We find this deeply puzzling for two reasons.
First, surely it is a key contention of expressivism that ethical sentences are not reports, and, independently of whether or not the beliefs should be described as ethical beliefs, if ethical sentences express beliefs, they are reports. Secondly, we wonder what an ethical belief could be if it is not one reported by an ethical sentence. Subjectivists, for example, take the belief that one approves of X to be an ethical belief, precisely because they think that that is the belief expressed by 'X is right'.
We agree of course that this subjectivist claim is counter-intuitive; while we think that expressivism collapses into subjectivism, we do not ourselves defend subjectivism. But if expressivists are forced to admit that ethical sentences express such beliefs, as Ridge himself concedes, then they cannot avoid endorsing that claim. In conceding that ethical sentences express beliefs, while denying that those beliefs are ethical, we think that Ridge is trying to have his cake and eat it: he is trying to hold by a theory and deny one of its straighforward implications.
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