Regaining the Importance of Metaethics
2008 (English)In: Ethical Theory and Moral Practice,2008, 2008Conference paper (Refereed)
Two of the traditional distinctions within metaethics, that between cognitivism and noncognitivism and, within cognitivism, that between objectivism and relativism, used to have clear consequences for both ethical theory and moral practice. However, developments in metaethics the last decades have made things much more complicated. The heirs of noncognitivism - expressivists - have employed truth and related notions like fact, belief, description, and mistake in a minimalist sense to say exactly the things that many cognitivists and objectivists have wanted to say: that there are moral facts and that they are moral facts independently of who is assessing them; that moral judgments are beliefs, beliefs that are true if they correspond to the facts; and that if two people disagree about a moral issue, then one of them must be mistaken. On the other side, critics of expressivism and noncognitivism have argued that because expressivists acknowledge speaker-relativist norms of sincere assertion, it collapses into a form of speaker relativism. With these developments, metaethics has not lost only its original straightforward distinctions, but also a clear view of its relevance: although very interesting from the point of view of moral psychology, the modern debate has tended to obscure the ethical and existential importance of metaethics. In this paper, I suggest a way in which the traditional distinctions can be salvaged even if we grant expressivists their minimalist uses of truth and its ilk. First, I develop a notion of substantial, non-projective criteria of correctness for moral judgments, a notion defined without relying on any of the core concepts that have been -minimized- or deflated by expressivists. The central notion is that of a judgment-internal intention of correctness, the intention to get things right when we make moral judgments. If these intentions are the same independently of whom the moral judge is, and if they have non-relativistic contents, some kind of objectivism is correct. If judgment-internal intentions of correctness vary from judge to judge, then either some form of relativism, or some form of noncognitivism is correct. One consequence of this way of drawing the distinction is that moral judgments have cognitive content on reasonable forms of both relativism and noncognitivism: they are formed with somewhat determinate judgment-internal intentions of correctness. To distinguish between these two views, I introduce the notion of intended communicative content. Given relativist cognitivism, the cognitive content of the judgment is part of the normal intended communicative content; on noncognitivist forms, it is not. Before closing, I argue that this way of redrawing the original distinctions preserves what was interesting about them. What used to be prima facie evidence for or against the old positions continues to be prima facie evidence for or against their new counterparts. And what used to be the most prominent consequences for ethical theory and moral practice continues to be so. What has been regained is a clear view of what the important issues are in metaethics.
Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
quasi-realism, metaethics, non-cognitivism, expressivism, objectivism, relativism, Allan Gibbard, James Dreier
IdentifiersURN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-44165Local ID: 75943OAI: oai:DiVA.org:liu-44165DiVA: diva2:265026