Emotive Realism

In some earlier posts I have been clearing the way for presenting the metaethical view that I defend (The Meaning and Use of ‘is True’, Truth, Justification, and the Quasi-Realist Way, Meaning and Justification, Reason and the Nature of Obligation, and A Simple Argument for Moral Realism). What I want to do now is to introduce Emotive Realism which is supposed to be a way of combining classical emotivism with moral realism.

The basic idea is simple enough. When I say that something is right/wrong/good/bad I express my moral sentiment in just the way that the classical emotivists thought and at the same time I assert (that is express my belief) that my moral sentiment is the correct way to feel about the person/act in question. As an example, when I say something like ‘suicide bombing is wicked’ I express my moral condemnation of suicide bombing; that is I express my moral feeling about suicide bombing. This is the illocutionary act. It is successful just in case you recognize that I intend to be expressing my moral condemnation. I also at the same time express the belief that moral condemnation is the correct attitude to have towards suicide bombing. I (usually, but by no means always) do this with the perlocutionary goal of trying to get you have the same attitude. Whether we are successful in this perlocutionary goal has no bearing on whether or not we are successful in our illocutionary act. In other words, you may ‘grasp’ the attitude that I express (namely that I morally disapprove and think this is the correct way to feel) without your thereby coming to share my attitude.

There are of course bells and whistles that have to be added to the theory (like an account of the semantics of moral sentences) which I intend to talk about later. But here what I want to point out is that this kind of theory is in principle compatible with any theory of justification. The issues of justification, on this view boils down to answering the question ‘is the belief that I express ever true?’ The answer to this question could be ‘no’ in which case you would have something like Ayer’s version of emotivism. It could also be ‘yes’ at which point we have further questions, like is the truth of the belief robust or not? If we say no to this question then we would have a version of expressivism like Blackburn’s. But it should also be clear that we can say ‘yes’ to this last question, in which case we would have an emotive realism and the belief will be true in virtue of the correct theory of moral justification.

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