On my view a moral judgement consists in a moral emotion or sentiment as well as a belief about the correctness of that sentiment. So to judge that slavery is wrong is to have the moral sentiment of condemnation and the belief that condemnation is the correct emotional reaction to have. I also claim that we express both of these attitudes at the same time when we say that slavery is wrong but that this is not the meaning of the sentence ‘slavery is wrong’.
Last night while having drinks with my colleague Aaron Rizzieri he brought up what he thought was a problem for my view from what I will call moral deviance. Take, for instance, someone who has a genuinely positive emotional reaction to the thought of violence against women but at the same time knows that this is the wrong way to feel. This person might say “Violence against women is wrong, and I feel the wrong way about it”. It may seem that on my view ‘violence against women is wrong’ is used to express moral condemnation of violence against women (i.e. the moral emotion of condemnation and the belief that this is correct way to feel about it), but this person does not morally condemn violence against women since they have a positive emotional response to it so it looks like he is contradicting himself, even though the sentence itself is not contradictory. However, in this case the person most likely means that they understand that moral condemnation is the appropriate attitude to take towards violence against women and is saying that the attitude that they actually have towards such violence is the wrong attitude to have. This is not a problem for my view because I only claim that we typically use these sentences to express our moral sentiments, not that we do so in every case. This person is using the sentence in a non-standard way, but we often use sentences in non-standard ways. The only claim I want to make is, as already said, that the speech acts that I am pointing out are done by us as well. And that these speech acts capture what we might call distinctively moral speech acts.
Now Aaron raised a slightly different objection from moral deviance. When our moral deviant says that violence against women is wrong he is not performing the speech act that I have called moral condemnation but is he expressing a moral judgment at all? Saying no seems implausible but if yes then it doesn’t seem like my account captures what is essential to moral judgements. It seems to me that they do make a moral judgment but that it is deformed. Deformed moral judgments seem to me common and useful. The hope is that one’s belief will eventually lead to one having the appropriate moral emotional reaction and thus to the appropriate behavior.
One might see this kind of objection pushing one towards the view that the moral judgment should be identified with the belief in question. So on this reading our moral deviant would be expressing the belief that the moral emotion of condemnation is the correct emotional response to violence against women but ultimately this just doesn’t seem right to me. Real moral judgments just seem to me to be rooted in emotional reactions.