Beyond Frege-Geach: neglected problems for Expressivism
This thesis is about the viability of meta-normative expressivism. On what I take to be the dominant conception of the view, it subscribes to two theses. First, that the meaning of sentences is to be explained in terms of the mental states these sentences conventionally express. Second, that there is a fundamental difference in the roles of the states expressed by normative sentences and the states expressed by descriptive sentences: descriptive sentences, according to expressivists, express mental states which are representational and non-motivational, while normative sentences express non-representational and motivational states. Expressivism has attracted many naturalistically inclined philosophers for its ability to explain many of the distinctive features of normative discourse and thought, without adding entities to our ontology that are metaphysically and epistemologically problematic. In this way, expressivism promises to preserve the legitimacy of our ordinary normative practice within a naturalistic world-view, without giving up on any of its distinctive features. Despite it’s benefits, expressivism also faces significant problems. While one of these problems, the Frege-Geach Problem, has attracted a lot of attention, there are several other problems that have not been sufficiently addressed by . But, given that the reasonable assumption that the plausibility of philosophical theories needs to be assessed holistically, it seems that one should pay attention to these problems to be able to assess expressivism’s overall plausibility. In this thesis I explain how expressivists can solve two of these problems. The first problem the dissertation is concerned with is the normative attitude problem. This is a dilemma based on the challenge that expressivists need to give an account of the nature of the attitude that normative thinking consists in. The dilemma is then that expressivists could either do this by holding that normative thinking consists in sui generis attitudes, which is uninformative and potentially in conflict with naturalism, or by holding that normative thinking reduces to attitudes fully describable in non-normative terms, which is in conflict with our intuitions about normative thinking. I argue that this dilemma is structurally identical to a dilemma which meta-normative representationalism faces (expressivism’s dialectical rival) and that expressivists can use the same theoretical resources to address the normative attitude problem meta-normative representationalists have used to address their version of the dilemma. I also argue that these resources will not only help more traditional versions of expressivism, according to which normative thinking reduces to familiar kinds of attitudes fully describable in non-normative terms, but opens up the possibility of an expressivist view according to which normative thinking consists in sui generis attitudes. The second problem I consider is a challenge to a particular expressivist project: quasi-realism. Part of this project is to show that expressivism is compatible with a web of closely connected assumptions, namely, that normative thought and discourse are truth-apt and normative judgements are beliefs. While quasi-realists have made some progress in this direction, there is one relevant phenomenon that has so far been neglected, namely, those uses of that-clauses that are associated with propositional content. This is a problematic neglect, because that-clauses figure prominently in platitudes characterizing our ordinary notions of “truth-aptitude” and “belief ”, and so expressivists need to provide a plausible account of these uses of that-clauses which fits with their allowing that normative thought and discourse are truth-apt and normative judgements are beliefs. I address this challenge as follows: I first remove any worries that one might have that a plausible account of that-clauses that helps the quasi-realist could be given, by introducing the distinction between semantics and meta-semantics and locating expressivism at the level of metasemantics. I then develop a deflationist view of that-clauses which suits the quasi-realist’s purposes. I start by giving such a view for the use of that-clauses in meaning-attributions by expanding on the work of Wilfried Sellars. I then go on to explain how the account can be generalized to the use of that-clauses in belief-attributions and propositional attitude ascriptions more generally, in a way that allows expressivists to say that normative judgements are beliefs.