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Cognitive meta ethical theory is valid

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 5/27/2014 Category: Philosophy
Updated: 2 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 816 times Debate No: 55517
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (6)
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Hello everyone.

I will attempt to prove metaethical cognitivism invalid.
The first round is for acceptance, and you can add any definitions as needed (provided they are credible and relevant to the topic at hand).


I accept this debate.

I will define "metaethical cognitivism" since Con did not do so:

"Cognitivism is the meta-ethical view that ethical sentences express propositions and can therefore be true or false"

This definition is almost identical to the one given by SEP:

"Cognitivism is the denial of non-cognitivism. Thus it holds that moral statements do express beliefs and that they are apt for truth and falsity."

I take the BOP to be shared. Whichever side provides the better case, on-balance, has won the debate.
Debate Round No. 1


Thank you, pro.

My contentions are as follows:

1. There must be intrinsic values in order for moral statements to be propositions. If all of value is extrinsic, then value is not really a concept, as there is no hypothetical value. Acommon example of good is happiness, but the reason that we supposedly value happiness is because it allows us to live. When we are asked why we want to live, we revert back to the desire for happiness. There is no proof of intrinsic values, ergo values cannot be seen in propositions.

2. There are no satisfactory definitions of good or bad. They both either lead to a circular definition, or are false, as I hope to demonstrate here. Good is positive value which is morally righteous which is good. That's circular, and cycles like that are what make up all related definitions. The only exception to this, is the definitions that deal with desires. Example, "good" may mean desirable, but when we look closely at this in practice, a sociopath's desires would generally not be considered good, despite such a classification.

Unto you, pro.


Observation 1: I do not need to demonstrate the truth of any particular ethical system, or even that any system is capable of establishing itself as true. I need only to show that ethical statements can be true or false. This directly follows from the wording of the resolution and the definitions provided in R1.

Observation 2: The common sense view is that ethical statements can be true or false. The overwhelming majority of humanity speaks and acts as if ethical statements contain true or false beliefs. This common understanding is fully capable of explaining how ethical statements are used in everyday language. This means that Con is defending an extremely counter-intuitive position and must overcome this hurdle to win the debate.

Observation 3: Con must give an account of what ethical statements actually mean to win this debate. If ethical statements are not propositions, then what are they?

1a) Con offers only assertions with no supporting argument. His argument is essentially:

P1: Moral statements can be propositions only if they have intrinsic value.

P2: There are no intrinsic values.

C: Moral statements cannot be propositions.

Con offers no argument supporting P1; he only offers an argument supporting P2. It is not at all obvious that Moral statements must have intrinsic value to be propositions.

In the absence of a defense of P1, his argument fails.

1b) There are intrinsic values. Meaning is an intrinsic value- it generates the motivation for its own value without reference to anything else. The value of meaning comes from the phenomenon of experiencing meaning itself. The experience of engaging in meaningful activity is the experience of finding value in that activity, whatever it is. Meaning makes an activity worth doing, including living, by virtue of meaning itself.

We can point to the things which “cause” meaning or the things we “find” meaning in, but these are not the reason for meaning’s value. For example, an architect finds meaning in building beautiful buildings. He may describe many reasons why he finds this project meaningful- it is challenging, he is creating beauty- but these reasons do not describe why the meaningfulness of the project is valuable. The architect would not say that he values meaning because it is caused by overcoming challenges or creating beauty.

Con’s argument about happiness does not apply to meaning. Meaning is not valuable because it “allows us to live,” meaning is valuable because it gives value to life.

1c) Con’s argument against intrinsic value proves that moral statements can be true or false. Consider the statement:

“You have an obligation not to decrease the happiness of others”

Con’s argument, if correct, demonstrates that happiness has no intrinsic value. If happiness has no intrinsic value, then there is no possible justification for the above statement. Thus the statement is false.

2a) Con’s argument again shows that ethical statements can be true or false. His argument is simply that we have no way to define good or bad. This is just a simple argument for moral relativism, which does not provide a case against ethical cognitivism.

Consider the statement:

“It is categorically bad to commit murder; there are no circumstances where murder is permissible.”

Con’s argument is that good could be defined such that a sociopath’s desires would be “good.” If this were the case, the above statement would be false and the Resolution would be true.

Furthermore, if we simply leave Con’s claim at “there are no satisfactory definitions of good or bad,” Con is still taking the position that it is NOT categorically bad to commit murder.

2b) Con simply asserts that there are no satisfactory definitions of good and bad. This may be his opinion, but millions of people have concepts of what “good” and “bad” mean and are satisfied with those concepts.

What Con is actually arguing is that people disagree on what good and bad are. But disagreement on what is good or bad does not prove that there is no correct answer to the question “what is good?” People disagree on all sorts of things, from the age of the earth to capital punishment; disagreement is not evidence of lack of truth.

Con has thus failed to demonstrate that no definition of good exists. He has only shown that there is disagreement on what the correct definition is.

3) Any position Con takes on the status of “good’ and “bad” will force him to take a position on substantive moral claims. This is because moral claims depend on justification for action and any position on the status of that justification entails a position on the status of the moral claim. By taking such a position, Con will be forced to support as true or false a competing moral claim. This is what I have briefly argued in 1c) and 2a).

To win this debate, Con must give an account of ethical propositions which do not render at least one of the following set of ethical statements true or false:

i) X is always wrong; there is a categorical moral justification to never do X.

ii) X is always right; there is always a categorical moral justification to do X.

iii) X is neither right nor wrong; there is no categorical moral justification to do X or not to do X.

4) In supporting non-cognitivism, Con must offer a response to my Observation 3 that solves the Embedding Problem. Whatever account Con gives for what ethical statements actually mean must function in the complex everyday usage of ethical statements.

Failure of Con to offer a stable explanation of ethical statements that is able to account for the meaning of ethical statements in embedded contexts is a failure to prove the Resolution.

I offer two examples, taken from SEP [1], for Con to explain:

i) “I wonder if lying is wrong”



(P1) If tormenting the cat is bad, getting your little brother to do it is bad
(P2) Tormenting the cat is bad.
Ergo, getting your little brother to torment the cat is bad.

If the above are not using ethical statements as propositions, then what are they doing?

Cognitivism can account for these examples, as it is easy to understand what i) means if the statement “lying is wrong” is a proposition which could be true or false. I contend that any non-cognitivist explanation will either fail to account for these examples in a satisfactory manner.


Debate Round No. 2


Thank you, Pro.

My rebbutals are as follows:

Observation 1: I am confused as to where Pro got the impression that I disagreed with this observation. This is indeed the perameters of this debate. I would like to add, that I need only prove that any assertions upholding the validity of Cognitivism are erronous.

Observation 2: Pro asserts that most humans behave in a way that assumes that ethical statements are propositions. However, no proof of such a claim has been presented. Not only that, but Pro continues on to make an argument from authority, where his evidence lies on the assumption that humanity's views on morality have an integrity that I must adress directly. I have absolutely no obligation to explain how we could make such a mistake.

Observation 3: Actually, such is my entire stance, as defined in R1. Ethical statements don't have a meaning, because if they did, such a meaning could have truth values applied to it. However, the terms surrounding ethics (such as good, false, morally positive, morally negative, etcetera) are meaningless, and because of that, no truth values can be assigned. In order for a statement to be true or false, the terms surrounding the statement have to be defined. I could claim that no X is Y, but that statement is neither true or false until X and Y have meaning.

1a) I have provided evidence for P1, but seeing as the point has not been conveyed, I will issue some elaboration.

I have, however mispoke in my contention. The idea of intrinsic values must exist, there does not neccesarily have to be a physical manifestation of it (as demonstrated by moral anti-realism).

If values could only exist as extrinsic, then they would not exist as abtract ideas; a world full of extrinsic value would be a world where nothing holds value, and that's because if anything held value that would be intrinsic. Nothing could ever be said about value, as no contexts could ever hold value from a hypothetical standpoint. To say that value could exist is to say that intrinsic value could exist. The idea of existence demands a manisfestation that would demand intrinsic values.

This really applies to anything. If we were talking about whether or not apples could exist if apples nothing was an apple, and that apples could be created, that would be ludacris. Apples can not be made if nothing can be an apple.

1b) A definition for meaning is required for this contention to be asserted.

Not only that, but Pro never really explains why meaning has value at all. "Meaning is valuable because it gives value to life" in context, it would seem Pro is simply claiming that meaning has intrinsic value. This does not at all explain his reasons for making such an assertion. Pro has given absolutely no defense of the claim "Meaning has intrinsic value", and so this rebbutal should be disregarded until sucha defence has been presented.

1 c) This ignores my point by placing my thought process in the wrong places. Let's reconsider the statement:

"You have an obligation not to decrease the happiness of others"

If I am correct, this idea can not be proved true or false, as there is no such concept as a moral obligation. Let us consider the following statement:

"You have an afrotion not to decrrease the happiness of others"

This statement can not be false, and it can not be true, as "afrotion" does not refer to anything.

2a) Pro's point here is plainly false. You cannot assign truth value to a meaningless statement. Saying that colpoyt's cannot exist is not a false statement, and it is not a true statement. "Colpoyt" does not refer to any idea, but you can't say that nothing is a colpoyt, as there is nothing that can be said about colpoyts. If colpoyts did not exist, then that would be, to some extent, a defining factor of what it means to be a colpoyt. The idea of non-existence would be applied to colpoyts, rendering the statement: "All dogs are colpoyts" to be a meaningful statement in that it suggests that dogs are something that does not exist. We can treat undefined terms as variables. "All dogs are X" is not a false statement. We must know something about X before we can say that not all of dogs fit with that idea.

I am saying that defining a sociopath's desires as good does not fit with the contectual ideas that relate to "good". I am stating that things that are not "good" can easily be desirable. I will provide the following example:

"I desire for no other desires to be fufilled."

If no desires were fufilled besides this one, that would be "good" according to that definition. It would also clearly not be desirable, and that disqualifies it from being "good". My real point is, that this definiton is one that has no viable place in the terms of ethical discussion. Generally, quenching desires is an example of a good thing, and not a defining factor.

2b) Once again, this is the argument from authority.
Plus, I have presented arguments. The first being a non-referential term, and the second being exempt from its place in ethics. We are currently discussing meta-ethics, which is where we are the people disagreeing on what good and bad are. I am not at all arguing that people have disagreements on the topic. I have no idea as to where Pro got such an idea. I am arguing that good and bad have no meaning, and Pro should be attempting to prove that they are meaningful enough to be true or false.

3)I have provided a substantial amount of reasons as to why this is false.

To win this debate, Pro must give an account of ethical propositions. I must continue to prove why there cannot be ethical propositions. I do not need to find any accounts of ethical propostions, as any ethical propositions would prove the resolution.

4) I do agree that the resolution fails due to my argument, however responses to the Observation 3 do not require me giving any sort of meaning to ethical statements.

i) "I wonder if lying is wrong"

I can solve this easily. If we equate this to a statement with the same meaning, it becomes "I wonder if lying is colpoytesque".

ii) Lets rephrase this, once again, using what I can only describe as synonyms:

P1: If tormenting the cat is A, getting your little brother to do it is A.
P2: Tormenting the cat is A.
Ergo, getting your little brother to torment the cat is A.

If P2 could be true, the ethical statements would be propositions. Considering that it can be neither true nor false, they are not propositions. What are they instead? Meaningless.



Observation 1 notes that the Resolution asks “are moral statements propositions?” NOT “is there an objective morality?” “Vampires live in Africa” is a proposition regardless of the whether vampires are real. Arguing that vampires don’t exist or that people don’t agree what vampires are doesn’t change the fact that the statement is a claim which can be true or false.

To be clear, cognitivism does NOT depend on objective morality.

Observation 2 makes 2 points:

1. Ethical statements have SOME meaning.

2. People overwhelmingly act as if the content of ethical statements are propositions.

The first claim should be obvious. When I say “Lying is wrong,” everyone can make some sense of what I am saying. There may be disagreement on what the meaning of that statement is, but the statement has SOME communicative content. We know ethical statements are at the least intelligible because people successfully use them to communicate.

The second point notes that the way people use ethical statements strongly suggests that they are propositions. This debate is about the meaning of statements people make; how people use those statements is at the heart of what those statements mean.

If we are arguing over the meaning of “vampires live in Africa,” the way the terms in that statement are used is relevant to our argument. We would reject an argument that equates the statement to “aliens built the pyramids” because the argument does not make sense of how people use the terms in the original statement.

That people appear to use ethical statements as propositions is therefore a major obstacle for Con to overcome.

Observation 3 builds on claim 1 of Observation 2. Ethical statements are intelligible, people use them to communicate. Con must account for why this is the case. Cognitivism accounts for this by taking the statements at face value- ethical statements are intelligible because they are propositions. If cognitivism is incorrect, then Con must account for how it is possible for people to sensibly use ethical statements.

Observation 4: Con should not be allowed new arguments in the final round of the debate since it skews the fairness and clarity of the debate. Con is limited to the account of ethical statements he has so far provided: “Ethical statements don't have a meaning.”

This account is patently false. If ethical statements had no meaning, the statement “Lying is wrong” would be unintelligible. Everyone reading this has SOME understanding of that statement, so the statement isn’t meaningless.

On this point alone I should win this debate; only Pro can explain how ethical statements function in everyday language.


Observation 1: I contend that BOP is shared; Con and Pro are offering competing interpretations of what ethical statements mean. The winner is whichever side best interprets what ethical statements are.

Observation 2: People explain their actions via moral justification and argue and wonder about ethical statements as if they could be true or false. These all evidence the fact that ethical statements are widely treated as propositions.

This is not an argument from authority. I am not arguing “Moral statements are propositions because everyone says they are,” but that the meaning of ethical statements is tied to how these statements are used. The widespread use of ethical statements as propositions offers strong support for the cognitivist position.

Con has an obligation to account for the communicative role of ethical statements as they are used or suffer a massive explanatory deficit to the non-cognitive position.

Observation 3: Cross-apply my overview; regardless of whether they are propositions, ethical statements have meaning because they are intelligible.

1a) Pro still hasn’t supported P1. He argues that values don’t exist but not why values must exist in order to make propositions about morality.

We can make propositions about things that don’t exist. “Vampires live in Africa” is a proposition about something that doesn’t exist.

1b) “Meaning as value” is totally distinct from the linguistic meaning in the Observations; the two arguments are 100% independent and unrelated.

There exists a phenomenon where people create value in activity or life, and I am calling this Meaning. Anyone engaging in Meaningful activity finds value in the activity and this value isn’t founded on the value of some other thing. An artist finds value in the act of painting regardless of whether it will ever be seen or will ever make him rich. The activity isn’t the object of value, the Meaning individuals find in it or bestow on it creates the value for them.

We know Meaning exists by experience; anyone who has ever felt that doing something was “worthwhile” knows that activity can be given value by meaning.

1c) Con relies on an obviously inapplicable analogy. “Afrotion” is unintelligible, while “obligation” is intelligible. This underscores my Overview: Con’s entire case fails to account for the fact that ethical statements function as a means of communication in language.

The only reason his analogy is at all convincing is because we literally can’t make sense of the word “afrotion.” Only vote Con if you are actually as confused when you see the word “wrong” as you are by the word “afrotion.”

Con’s response doesn’t make any sense because “obligation” has meaning independent of moral concepts: there are legal and practical obligations. Con isn’t even replacing the right word in his analogy; the value-laden term is “happiness.”

Also, Con’s 1) doesn’t attempt prove that value-laden concepts are unintelligible, only that they don’t exist.

2a) Cross-apply my overview. Moral terms aren’t nonsense words; “good” DOES refer to an idea.

Con’s response treats ethical statements as propositions: Con makes claims about why defining good as “what is desirable” fails. He constructs an argument about what can and can’t serve as an understanding of “good;’ he makes truth claims about the nature of good. If ethical statements are not propositions, Con should have nothing to say about what is or isn’t “good” because nothing CAN be said. Con isn’t treating “good” as a meaningless word, he is evaluating why certain definitions of good fail.

Con actually makes a claim: “’What is desirable’ fails as a definition for what is ‘good.’” This is a truth statement about an ethical term! Con is making propositions about ethical terms.

2b) Con has not offered an argument that NO satisfactory definition of “good” exists. He offered two sample arguments against very poorly formulated conceptions of the good. Even if Con offered a negative argument against each one, this would only show that we don’t know what the good is- not that no concept of the good is possible. What Con needs is a positive argument that no concept of “good” is possible.

But again, this debate isn’t about whether or not there is an objective “good.” This debate is about whether ethical statements are propositions. People can argue about what a “vampire” is (Edward Cullen or Dracula?) or if they exist (they don’t), yet “Vampires live in Africa” is still a proposition.

3) Con has failed to meet this burden. His account of ethical statements is that all ethical statements are meaningless nonsense.

This invalidates the claims of i) and ii). If it is true that all ethical statements are meaningless, then there is never a moral justification for any action. By invalidating the claims of i) and ii) Con has shown them to be making truth claim and thus propositions.

The statement “There is categorical moral justification never to murder” is incompatible with the claim “all moral claims are nonsense,” since any moral justification would be nonsense and thus not offer a reason not to murder.

4) The embedding problem stems from a point Con misses: that ethical statements exist and that ethical statements are used in complex ways that seem to depend on propositional content.

Con is trying to fiat away the content of ethical statements.

Debate Round No. 3


Thank you for the debate, Pro, It has been fun.

I'm going to go over the debate and make some final responses to my opponent's contentions and rebuttal.

Observation 1 does indeed ask what Pro claims it did. I ask for no proof of an objective morality, seeing as a claim for or against objective morality would imply the involvement of propositions. Arguing that vampires don't exist implies that the word "vampire"refers to something in particular.

Observation 2 requires a little bit of an expanded look on my part, as I have clearly failed to make my thought process clear enough for all to understand.

There are "connotative" elements to morality. I put the word connotative in quotation marks, because technically connotative implies the existence of a denotative base. When you say "lying is wrong", you succeed in communicating some ideas. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. However, the communication in question has far less to do with meaning than you have assumed thus far. A scream communicates several things, but attempting to use it in a proposition will prove to be a futile effort. When I say that "Lying is wrong" I have communicated many ideas, but nonetheless the statement cannot be proved true or false. When we think of the word wrong, what comes to mind? Murder, pain, suffering, torture, rape, and several other things that have been given such a title. The reason we group such things linguistically, is because identifying them has helped us survive thus far. In order for the word "bad" to actually have any meaning, however, it cannot simply refer to a vague and debatable group of ideas, but rather a unifying quality that the word directly refers to.

In order to prove the resolution, you must prove that there is indeed a specific quality that the words in moral statements refer to.

When you think of the word "colpoyt", vague ideas of me and the concept of non-propositions come up. If such a fake word were used on an intensively regular basis, you would treat it as if the word referred to something in particular, but it wouldn't.

The word "good" expresses emotions such as happiness, pleasure, relief, and several other so called "positive" feelings. This absolutely does not mean that the word "good" or even "positive" in this context would refer to any unifying aspect of these emotions, and therefore does not mean that they can be used in propositions.

We never did define propositions, so I figure that we had better get that straight for once:

"A proposition is that part of the meaning of a clause or sentence that is constant, despite changes in such things as the voice or illocutionary force of the clause." [1]

If several things fit into a supposed category, but there isn't any specific differences between what lies within and outside of that category, it would be very misguided to say that such a category exists at all.

We know that many people think of certain things as being "good" or "bad", so such things are communicated upon their mention. This does not in any way reflect the truth value that can be held with those words. I present the following example in an attempt to clarify:

Bananas, kleptomaniacs, and integrity might be examples of colpoyts. Cumulus clouds are colpoyts.

Now, if consistently enforced enough, the notion of bananas, kleptomaniacs, and integrity will be communicated with the use of the word "colpoyt". I urge the floor to consider whether or not the latter sentence will therefore be a proposition.

We can easily explain the use of moral statements to be very similar to our example.
If something caused death, we initially labelled it as being bad. We went on to label pain as being bad as well. From there, it moved on to selfishness, lying, assault, the lack of tact, and so forth. Nowadays, when we hear the word "bad", we think of things like those.

Observation 3: The debate is about whether or not they are propositions, so this point is completely null, and the floor should treat it as such.

1a) I do not argue that values do not exist. I argue that the term "existential value" does not refer to anything specifically. I say that in order to prove that it is, there must also be the concept of intrinsic values, as the concept of extrinsic values cannot exist on its own. I would advise pro to read what I am saying with more attention. Also, the word "vampire" refers to a specific concept, and can indeed be used in a proposition. The same cannot be said for colpoyts or morals.

1b) Firstly, your use of the word "meaning" has everything to do with value. It is a phenomenon where value is created. Secondly, what does this have to do with the fact that there is no such thing as the idea of existential value? What is it? What quality does it refer to? Pro needs to provide satisfactory definitions in order to fulfill his burden of proof.

1c) I am irrevocably lost as to how this contention made any sense to my opponent. It is an absolute insult to the intelligence of the voters.

My entire argument revolves around how unintelligible the term "moral obligation" truly is when objectively analyzed. If we used the word "afrotion" to describe vague emotions and acts, seemingly at random, for thousands of years, the word would seem completely pedestrian and intelligible. I am asking the voters to look closely at what a "moral obligation" truly is, and find out for themselves that the term lacks unifying qualities.

Only vote Pro if you know what the words "good" and "bad" specifically mean, as opposed to just having something to do with happiness and murder.

My response makes perfect sense, as the obligation in question was clearly a moral one. Why on Earth would "happiness" be the value-laden term? Happiness refers very specifically to the emotion that deals with endorphins, oxytocin, adrenaline, and various other specific and scientific terms. Scientists have studied the exact nature of happiness, but they can do no such thing with "good".

Also, I would advise Pro to read carefully in the future. My 1) attempts to prove that the idea does not exist.

2a) What idea does it refer to? Pro gives no evidence for this.

This point is nonsense. I am referring to the word "good", I am not using it under the pretence of it referring to anything itself. Since the meaning of the word "good" does not exist, the meaning cannot hold truth value. Likewise, I can refer to the word "colpoyt" with a truth within the reference. I cannot make any statement that surrounds "colpoytesque" ideas.

2b) Pro needs to prove that we are conceptualizing "good". I don't at all need to prove that the word "good" can't ever refer to anything. We could make a satisfactory definition of the word "colpoyt" and then use it in propositions. Right now both "colpoyt" and "good" have not been conceptualized, and therefore cannot be used as the basis for propositions.

The word "vampire" has clear and objective meaning. It can be used in propositions. If the concept of a vampire did not exist, then that would not be the case.

3)Pro has failed to uphold his burden, while mine is quite secure.

The claim that "colpoyts are real" is not false, because it has no meaning. I have already elaborated on this."All x are y" is not a false claim, it is a yet-to-be-defined claim.

4) Statements that use the supposedly "ethical" terms do exist. They depend on connotative content and ambiguity, and not at all on the underlying concepts, as they do not exist.

All said, I thank my opponent for an enjoyable debate. Voters, please note the obscenely superior content of my contentions and the incomprehensibility of my opponent's logic. Please do not vote based on preconceived notions, but rather the cases that we have both presented.

I strongly urge the floor to side with Con in this debate.



My opponent has radically shifted his advocacy in the final round of the debate. Throughout R3 he repeatedly says moral statements are “meaningless;” he underscored this point by comparing moral statements to unintelligible nonsense words. Then in the LAST ROUND he offers alternative explanations accounting for the intelligibility of moral statements, even though I pressed Con for an account of how moral statements function in language in my opening argument.

I urge voters to hold Con to his original position, that moral statements are meaningless- a position which is totally untenable. At any rate I will be forced to make entirely new arguments in the final round as a response to Con’s entirely new arguments.

Closing Argument:

In the opening round of the debate I offered two essentially identical definitions of cognitivism. These definitions have been in-play and undisputed the entire debate. Pro’s job is to show that moral statements express beliefs and are truth-apt and Con’s job is to show that this is not the case.

Fundamentally this debate comes down to which side better accounts for moral statements. I will summarize my case:

As I have consistently pointed out, there are several facts that are pertinent to this Resolution:

1. Moral statements exist.

2. Moral statements are intelligible.

3. Moral statements are intelligible in complex and embedded contexts.

These are facts about the world independent of any meta-ethical claim. Any claim which is unable to account for or contradicts these facts must be ruled untenable, just as we would rule out any other philosophical argument which contradicted facts about the world.

My position easily accounts for these facts. If moral statements are propositions, then moral statements are no different than propositions such as “apples are red;” moral statements make truth claims and thus people can wonder about the truthfulness of moral statements and use moral statements in complex contexts.

The cognitivist position is superior to the non-cognitivist position because only cognitivism can account for the use of moral statements in language.

Con cannot account for the above facts.

First Con said that moral statements were “meaningless.” From his arguments it was clear that he meant this to denote unintelligibility. His arguments compared moral terms to nonsense words like “afrotion,” and claims “good and bad have no meaning.” When I pointed out that moral statements ARE intelligible, Con switched is advocacy in the final round.

But perhaps Con meant something else when he said “meaningless.” Perhaps he meant that moral terms cannot be defined. But I pointed out in my R2 2b that millions of people have definitions of good and bad, so clearly moral terms are ABLE to be defined.

But perhaps Con just meant that the definitions people provide are “unsatisfactory.” If this is the case, Con has conceded the case: the statement “’X is good’ is an unsatisfactory definition of ‘good’” is a proposition! Claiming that a moral definition is unsatisfactory makes a truth claim about the nature of the term being defined. I pointed this out in my R3 2a: when Con explains why “desirability” cannot be a definition of “good,” Con is forced to make truth claims about “good.” Con says:

“I am saying that defining a sociopath's desires as good does not fit with the contectual [sic] ideas that relate to "good".

The moral statement “Anything that fulfills my desires is good” is a statement which is falsified by Con’s argument. It is therefore a proposition.

Moreover, the claim that all definitions of good are unsatisfactory falsifies claims i) and ii) from my R2 3). If there are no satisfactory definitions of good, then there are no moral justifications to do X. Con’s position therefore entails the falsification of moral claims, thus affirming cognitivism.

Now let’s examine the last-minute alternatives Con offered in the final Round:

First, Con isn’t even able to offer a clear explanation of what moral terms are. He says they are “connotative,” except not. I don’t really know what Con means by this, but from his argument Con seems to be saying that moral terms refer to groups of vaguely related ideas without an underlying unifying concept.

This understanding is compatible with cognitivism- if “bad” has a connotative relationship with murder etc., then the statement “murder is not bad” is false.

This argument just underscores the fact that cognitivism is compatible with moral relativism. We can understand “bad” to mean “whatever doesn’t conform to societal norms.” On this understanding, moral statements still have truth value, since in a given society “X is bad” is a truth-apt statement. Con’s historical explanation of moral terms is just an argument for moral subjectivism and moral subjectivism falls within the cognitivist camp.

Con also brought up the idea of a scream being able to communicate but not being propositional. This is honestly the closest Con has come to offering a viable explanation of moral statements, but he doesn’t flesh the argument out enough for it to merit evaluation. At face value, moral statements seem to communicate more than screaming does- the statement “lying is wrong” communicates some idea while “lying is AHHH” does not. This explanation also does not account for complex embedded meaning. If moral statements are the equivalent of screaming, then how do people wonder about moral statements? The statement “I wonder if lying is wrong” is intelligible, but “I wonder if lying is AHHH” is not.

Then later in the round Con goes back to saying “the meaning of the word "good" does not exist” and even says moral terms are “unintelligible” when analyzed. So does he think moral statements are unintelligible or not? Con has no stable advocacy.

Finally, Con keeps returning to the idea of specificity, demanding that good have a “unifying” aspect and claiming that a Pro vote requires knowing “specifically” what good and bad mean. This is wrong. I have only a vague understanding of what string theory is, but I can make all sorts of propositions about it. If you only have vague ideas relating “bad” to murder, you can still make truth claims- e.g. “I believe murder is a bad action.”

Con’s argument is defeated by the example he provides:

“Bananas, [etc] might be examples of colpoyts. Cumulus clouds are colpoyts.

Now, if consistently enforced enough, the notion of bananas…will be communicated with the use of the word "colpoyt". I urge the floor to consider whether or not the latter sentence will therefore be a proposition.”

Following this narrative the statement “cumulus clouds are colpoyts” is a proposition. It is a statement that is either true or false based on the understood meaning of the word. While the understood meaning of “colpoyt” makes the truthiness of the proposition unclear, it is still a proposition. I could make another proposition, “bananas are colpoyts,” which we would know is true. We can form propositions about societally constructed categories. The stellar constellations are totally made up by humans, but the statement “Pisces is a constellation” is still a truth-apt statement and therefore a proposition.

This demand for specificity is just another way of arguing that no “satisfactory” definition of good exists, which is an argument I addressed above.

Con’s argument that there are no intrinsic values has no impact on the debate. Such an argument only proves that there is no justification for calling something good or bad. This falsifies moral claims; the claim “X is good” is falsified if there are no intrinsic values. Cognitivism is correct if good and bad do not exist, as this would make all claims that “X is good” false. Even Con has agreed that lack of objective morality is not a problem for cognitivism.

When you think “I wonder if lying is wrong?” are you inquiring about truth of the statement “lying is wrong” or are you performing some other non-cognitive action? If you are inquiring about truth, you must vote Pro.

Debate Round No. 4
6 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 6 records.
Posted by creedhunt 2 years ago
I forgot to put the link to my reference in the final round;
Posted by creedhunt 2 years ago
Posted by AlexFreeman 2 years ago
So, to be clear, you're arguing against the idea that ethical statements are propositions that can be determined to be true or false, correct?
Posted by Flipz 2 years ago
Ok, thanks. That makes sense.
Posted by creedhunt 2 years ago
The metaethics thing was a typo, sorry.

Concerning the definitions, I'm referring to the theory of cognitivism that is metaethical in nature. It refers to the semantic theory. I'm sorry for the confusion.
Posted by Flipz 2 years ago
Please define your terms before the debate. "Meta ethics" is typically written as "metaethical or meta-ethical." Also, There are no entries from "meta ethical cognitivism" in PLATO or wiki. There is, however, an entry for moral cognitivism, but ethics and morals are not always considered the same, especially in philosophical circles.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by Ajab 2 years ago
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Reasons for voting decision: I will write a lengthier RFD later however just some basic points: firstly I am kind of sad that the theory of meaning by pragmatism was not properly brought into this debate, also the reason I gave this to raisor was that Cons rebuttals were not up to the mark. Once Pro properly pointed out that cognitivism does not base itself on objecive morality but rather that moral proposition in themselves are meaningless he sort of won the debate. Con could benifit by using G.E. Moore's arguments. As I said I will write a lengthier RFD later.