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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L3573-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2015
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Expressivism is a kind of noncognitivism, usually about morality. And noncognitivism is a metaethical theory, that is a theory about the subject matter of morality, about the nature of moral thought and about the meaning of moral language. Noncognitivist theories of ethics and morality contrast with cognitivist theories of ethics, according to which moral language and thought is continuous with other descriptive language and thought, which represents the world to be a certain way. Insofar as the idea is to contrast moral language with ordinary descriptive language, noncognitivists must give us an account of how moral thought and language do function. That account must make sense of moral thought and talk and be consistent with how people in fact think and talk about moral matters. Expressivism is perhaps the dominant contemporary strategy for providing that story.

Expressivism suggests that the function of moral language is to express desire like attitudes. The fact that moral language does so is supposed to explain the intuitively tight connection between moral opinion and action – that people’s actions provide good evidence about the morality they accept. And it is supposed also to explain why moral terms cannot be translated into nonmoral language, as G.E. Moore alleged in his influential Principia Ethica The general expressivist strategy is to explain these and other features of moral language by correlating moral sentences with the attitudes they are apt to express. The thought is that we can use these states of mind to explain what these sentences mean.

Expressivism thus extends the project of the early emotivists, who along with prescriptivists developed the two main early varieties of noncognitivism. Expressivists and emotivists agree that simple indicative moral sentences are conventional devices for the expression of pro and con attitudes as opposed to cognitive attitudes such as belief. Contemporary expressivists have not repudiated emotivism; rather, they have developed it. Most are quasi-realist insofar as they have aimed to generate a systematic account of moral language that vindicates everyday moral practice. They have thus gone some way beyond their emotivist predecessors in generating accounts of more complex sentences that contain moral terms. And they have often been more specific about the attitudes expressed and about the sense in which attitude expression can be used to explain the meanings of moral terms.

Citing this article:
van Roojen, Mark. Expressivism, 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L3573-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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