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Problems of Emotivism

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8/21/2015 1:33:13 PM
Posted: 2 years ago
Originally motivated by the Open Question Argument various philosophers began to criticize traditional ethical positions. So far I have presupposed cognitivism, the thesis that moral statements express propositions, now it's time to explore the non-cognitivist camp. More specifically emotivism, the thesis that moral claims are really just expressions of emotion.
"Stealing is wrong" just means "stealing: boo!" (yay-boo-ism).

Emotivism began with Ayer's verification theory of meaning.

VToM: statements are meaningful, if and only if, they are analytically true (all bachelors are unmarried men) or empirically verifiable.
(I don't know how anyone could be convinced by this)

I don't want to spend much time on verificationism. All you need to know is that you don't want to be affiliated with it. Obviously you can't test for wrongness in a lap, hence moral claims are meaningless.

One problem Ayer himself recognized is that it renders the content of moral debates rather questionable. For example, what does a debate about abortion amount to? "Abortion: yay!", "nono, abortion: boo!" That seems very odd. Ayer claims, rather radically, that these are actually just factual disagreements. Suppose the radical pro-choicer thinks abortion is always OK because the fetus does not have a functioning brain and the radical pro-lifer thinks abortion is never OK because the fetus does have a functioning brain. Obviously both are wrong, but according to Ayer, that is what moral debates are really like. But even if either of them was factually right, it does not account for any conflict in values, like bodily autonomy or the right to life. Or what emotion is a caricatured psychopath expressing who says "I know it's wrong, but I don't care"?

Jorgensens Dilemma

Consider the following argument.

1) If murder is wrong, then paying somebody to murder is wrong.
2) Murder is wrong.
3) Therefore, paying somebody to murder is wrong.

This seems like a perfectly valid argument, if p, then q, p, therefore q. It seems like someone who accepts both premises is forced to also accept the conclusion, but according to the emotivist, the second premise is neither true nor false, so the conclusion cannot follow.