LECTURE NOTES ON EXPRESSIVISM AND SENSIBILITY THEORIES I. S. Blackburn, “How to Be an Ethical Antirealist” (1993) 1. The Proposal (a) Ethical thinking is not in the business of cognition. The priority goes to non-cognitive attitudes. This means: i. to attitudes, mental states, rather than contents: objects, properties, propositions; ii. To non cognitive attitudes rather than cognitive ones: with the active and not descriptive direction of fit. The attitudes are projected – a mental activity – as properties (attitudes to contents projected as properties of objects individuated by contents) and are expressed – a linguistic activity – as predicates. The overall position combines projective metaphysics and a quasi-realist understanding of normative thought (48) (b) The program is basically that of avoiding cognitive attitudes as the starting point but earning the right to talk of truth and cognition. It is not important how you start but what you finish with (legitimately) saying (48). Furthermore, one has to provide an explanation, in functional and evolutionary terms, of the relevant attitudes and of the projective and expressive activity (48-49) (c) Values and norms do not play any independent explanatory role. In so far as mention of them is made in the account, it is only as features of mental states, not as properties or facts in the world (49, 52-53) 2. Philosophical Notabilia (a) There is no transcendental story to be told about normative discourse. This means that, in contrast with fundamental science, physics, we can tell an explanatory story about ethics and normative discourse without leaving the standpoint of naturalism and moving to a transcendental one (47-48, 52-53) (b) A thoroughly internal reading could and should be given of some of the basic epistemological, semantic and metaphysical issues concerning normative thought: the issues of dependency and objectivity; relativism; the definition of a truth predicate; the understanding of normative reality. These are all questions which should be shifted to the first order, taken as substantive normative questions, questions about what is moral and what is rational, what is to do (51, 52, 53, 55) (c) The understanding of normative predicates is thoroughly non-naturalistic: they do not stand for natural or metaphysical properties; they do not stand for anything at all; they are projections and expressions of attitudes and mark normative, not descriptive, differences. The relevant sort of naturalism is subject-naturalism, or methodological naturalism, not object naturalism (55). II. A. Gibbard, “The Reasons of a Living Being” (2003) 1. Moore’s Open Question Argument is a good model for the kind of position that expressivists should aim to. It is all-important for expressivism to recognize not only the distinctiveness, but the irreducibility of normative considerations, dealing with oughts and reasons. The ambition is to find a place for the space of reasons within the naturalistic picture of the world (72). 2. This can be perfectly consistent with naturalism, if ought and reasons are understood and explained expressivistically. Here the relevant contrast is between saying and expressing. Saying is delivering a proposition, that is, a truth-apt content. Expressiving is manifesting an attitude, a mental state, which can or not be cognitive. The crucial point is that there can be disagreement between attitudes and subjects of attitudes, so that my attitude and your or my present attitude and my past one are opposed as inconsistent (73, left column). 3. The mental states that are expressed in normative discourse are states of planning: hypothetical contingency planning. Planning connects factual considerations – contingencies, causal links – and normative-practical ones – what to want, what do. In either regard, plans are mental states which license disagreement (tastes, famously, do not: de gustibus non disputandum) (74). 4. Disagreement in plans makes possible to think of mental states, as candidates for expression or projection, to exclude one another. This is important because contents can be individuated in terms of exclusions. The content of a belief, say, is determined by what would made that belief false. If there are exclusion-relations, or disagreements, between plans, then, since plans are not purely factual mental states, there may be a way to individuate and explain normative contents and to solve the Frege-Geach problem and other issues of normative rationality (74-75). 5. This also establishes a measure of moral realism and can lead to an ecumenical position in metaethics – of course, strictly on expressivist grounds (75, left colum). 6. It is important to distinguish concepts and properties. There are non-naturalist, normative concepts; but not non-naturalistic, normative properties. In general, the central issues of the metaphysics of normativity, including the explanation of the supervenience of the normative on the natural, are explained in terms of idealizing constraints on planning activity. Therefore, are explanations of an expressivist, internal sort (75, right column, 76). III. J. McDowell, “Values and Secondary Qualities” (1985) 1. The Basic Claims (a) There is a cognivist phenomenology of value: our view and our understanding of values seem to be those proper to any cognitive presentation. This was Mackie’s starting point, also. But Mackie complemented this right phenomenological point with an unacceptable model for the cognition of values. The model is a perceptual one – and this per se could be inoffensive; but is is one referring to the perception of primary qualities. This combines the simple being there of such qualities with their having an intrinsic, non-subjectively mediate impact on attitudes. This raises deep and insoluble metaphysical questions and opens the way to the projectivist alternative to error theory. But there can be an alternative: modeling values on secondary qualities and rejecting projectivism in favor of a revised understanding of cognitivist realism (137-138). (b) Notice that the above implies that the account of secondary qualities is not a projective one; but that it is in turn cognitivist and realist – in its own distinctive way. In this regard, it is utterly important that the distinction between primary and secondary qualities is not mistaken for one between objective and subjective or one between veridicality and illusion, being there and figment. Secondary qualities are inherently phenomenal: essentially present to experience and essentially marked by their appearing to experience. But they still are perfectly realand objective (139). 2. Philosophical Points (a) The crucial step in this direction is to drop the idea that experience, the states of awareness which we are in when perceiving or seeming to perceive sensibly, is the medium or bearer of the content of experience. If we assume this, then it is difficult to resist the idea that there is an uneliminable subjectivity in experience, that is in our cognition of secondary qualities, because, no matter what else, they must only be what is given in subjective awareness. The right understanding of the situation is that experience, or sensible awareness, is immediately representative. The colors and so on we have experience of are not the subjective shell of some information about the environment. They are phenomenal properties of the objects, different but not less real than the non-phenomenal ones. The grounds for this position are those hinted to in 1.b: there is no a priori difference in veridicality between primary and secondary qualities. They differ only in character, not in their claim to objectivity (139-140, 141). (b) This approach can be extended to values. They have no causal efficacy, but still, like colors, they can be genuine aspects of reality. In either case, the phenomenality of colors or the special place in awareness, say, in motivating terms, of values, is the expression of their special connection with mind and sensibility. This is not in the sense that they belong in any particular sense to subjectivity; but that they can be individuated and understood only in relation to the sensibility and the attitudes of persons. But still, this relation is not illusory and is objective: something can be really fearful, in relation to the response or attitude of fear. There is a disanalogy with colors: values do not only elicit but merit certain attitudes or responses. There is room for criticism and room for discussing the appropriateness of objects and attitudes (141-142) (c) All the explanations, the criticisms, the corrections, the improvement, must be understood from the standpoint of the relevant attitudes and of our engagement with certain sorts of judgments and evaluations and actions. Once this is understood, there are no epistemological mysteries concerning our grasp and knowledge of values – no more than that of colors, given that we are by nature endued of visual perception and of a sensibility to color. There is an internal connection between our sensible or practical constitution and the features of the world we have access to, the objective modes of presentations of reality (142-143). IV. D. Wiggins, “A Sensible Subjectivism” (1991) 1. There is a Humean form of subjectivism, which hinges on projection and on the verdict of authoritative judges. However, this form of subjectivism is questionable because it is modeled on the sensorial apparatus and presupposes a homogeneous human nature (147-148) 2. A non-Humean subjectivism: the central concept is that of fitness by nature of certain views and ways of acting. The viewpoint from which such fitnesses are to be recognized and appreciated is internal to our practice of cognition and evaluation, it is a first-order one. There is no reduction of valuing and values to anything external (149-150). 3. Perceptions and responses, properties and responses, are on this view mutually determined – made the ones for the others. The crucial point is that our sensibilities and our practices are at least to some degree systematic and susceptible to progress. We can move from consideration of appropriate objects to that of appropriate responses and again to that of appropriate objects- it is a virtuous circularity. This also makes disagreement possible and makes us move from subjectivity to objectivity. (151-152) 4. We must both require and pursue agreement ion concepts or sense, not judgments, in our practices. This is the key to our mutual criticizability and to the internal criticism and reconstructions of our very practices – on the model of Neurath’s ship. In this way it is possible to aim to a form of realist and cognitivist subjectivism (153-155).